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Short Stories 








Herbert Gold 


Copyright 1962 by Herbert Gold 
Copyright 1952, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961 

by Herbert Gold. 

"The Rise of the Treeniks" copyright 1961 
by Metronome Corporation 


Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-16333 


The essay, "A Dog in Brooklyn, a Girl in Detroit: A Life Among 
the Humanities," is published for the first time in this volume. 

Acknowledgment is made to the following publications in whose 
pages these essays first appeared: The Atlantic Monthly, March 

1957, for "The Age of Happy Problems;" Mademoiselle, February 

1958, for "How to Be an Artist's Wife;" The Atlantic Monthly, No- 
vember 1957, for "Divorce as a Moral Act;" Charm, October 1959, 
for "The Bachelor's Dilemma;" Partisan Review, Summer 1957, for 
"The Mystery of Personality in the Novel;" Hudson Review, Win- 
ter 1958, for "The Fair Apple of Progress" (originally published as 
"The Purity and Cunning of Sherwood Anderson") ; Hudson Review, 
Winter 1957, for "The New Upper-Middle Soap Opera;" Playboy, 
February 1958, for "The American as Hipster" (originally published 
as "The Beat Mystique"); The Nation, November 17, 1957, for 
"Hip, Cool, Beat, and Frantic;" Metronome, February 1961, for 
"The Rise of the Treeniks;" The Atlantic Monthly, September 
1960, for "Fiction of the Sixties;" discovery, Number 1, for "Cleve- 
land: Inflation-on-the-Erie;" Hudson Review, Summer 1952, for 
"Paris: Notes from La Vie de Boh&me;" The Yale Review, Autumn 
1954, for "Americans in the Port of Princes;" Playboy, June 1961, 
for "The Great Divide" (originally published as "The Great Amer- 
ican Divide"); Playboy, September 1960, for "The Changing Vil- 
lage" (originally published as "The Restless Mecca"); The Noble 
Savage, Number 3, for "Death in Miami Beach." 



For Ann and Judy 




The Age of Happy Problems 3 

How to be an Artist's Wife 14 

Divorce as a Moral Act 26 

The Bachelor's Dilemma 34 

The Mystery of Personality in the Novel 42 

The Fair Apple of Progress 56 

The New Upper-Middle Soap Opera 68 

Hip, Cool, Beat, and Frantic 79 

L The American as Hipster 79 

2. Hip, Cool, Beat, and Frantic 91 

3. The Rise of the Treeniks 103 
Fiction of the Sixties 106 
A Dog in Brooklyn, a Girl in Detroit: 

A Life Among the Humanities 118 



Paris: Notes from La Vie de Boh&me 139 

(Avec Tout Conforts) 

Cleveland: Inflation-on-the-Erie 156 

Haiti: Americans in the Port of Princes 166 

Reno: The Great Divide 182 

Greenwich Village: The Changing Village 193 

Death in Miami Beach 218 


THIS is A REPORT about where one man stands on some 
matters of teaching, learning, writing, love, marriage, work, 
and the prospect of death, and how he came to this stand 
in the cities of America. 

Setting out a few final, summary pages, I wish to try 
to call up what I have discovered in the pleasure of 
writing these interim communiques, twelve years of voy- 
ages around part of the world and up certain of its 
dilemmas. Most of the sections of this book are aimed at 
specific and nonparallel subjects Americans abroad, the 
hipsters, divorce, Miami Beach, Sherwood Anderson, the 
craft of fiction, the vocation of a teacher and yet each 
seems to mark out part of the map, a place on a roadway. 
The map takes shape as I trace my way from one gathering 
of thoughts to the next. How can I total it up? What is 
the map of the map? 

Well, to begin with, Plato was wrong. The life of 
contemplation is not sufficient. Neither is virtue enough. 
And for another thing, Plato was right. He knew that men 
must learn to come together in the practice of intelligence 
and moral privilege. 



An instructive practical joke has been played on us 
by history since the time of Socrates. Now we know too 
much and we have had too much experience with evil 
ever to be long satisfied with the hope of ideal private 
purity in the quest of virtue and knowledge. To be alone 
in wisdom is to possess only the ghost of wisdom; it is 
like being a lover with no one to love. And as in love and 
understanding, so in the effort toward a moral life. We 
cannot accept the bondage of others without being our- 
selves enslaved. The separated soul moves inexorably from 
smugness to explosion. The contemporary literary parody 
of Diogenes is Hemingway, who turns out to be seeking 
good repute more than glory, formula more than wisdom, 
peace to his troubles and not a resolution to the challenge 
of mortality. Looking for an honest man in the market 
place, Diogenes carried a lantern, not a mirror. The auto- 
biographical compulsion in a writer leads to a pathos which 
has the character of the sentences on tombstones; we do 
not stand moved by the stiff words we weep to honor 
the body buried beneath. And when the words have been 
inscribed by a self-indulgent living corpse, we stand uneasy 
in our sympathy, we are excluded by self-pity, we have 
been had. The body is not even present. It is elsewhere, 
drafting new appeals before the mirror. Style, even the 
style of genius, shrivels to fashion in the paper fire of 
vanity. To save ourselves we must return to Aristotle's sense 
of the good man the man who exercises his power of 
intelligence in an effort to master time and mortality 
through works apart from building his own person. Out 
of this effort come tragedy and comedy in art, comes the 
labor of freedom in life. 

Therefore, as an American and a writer, I have aspired 
in these essays to an active use of my strength within the 
terms of those possibilities available to me. Given my 
failings of wisdom and virtue, there is plenty of room for 
future risk and maneuver under this program. 


And not only do I need changing, but my friends 
do too, and America, and the world. Everyone knows this. 
Not everyone knows that there is still quite a bit of life 
freedom to create left in America and the world. I now 
ask myself what everyone asks upon ritual occasions: Is 
there a better time coming? Is final disaster just ahead? 

Well, the way to know and affect the future is not 
through stupefied waiting, solemn assertion, or viewing 
with alarm. Gravity of tone and deep seriousness of man- 
ner befit television announcers more than thinking human 
beings. We need all our sources of energy, including appe- 
tite and play, lightness of spirit and agility of body. We 
need a whole list of things. Let us pin the list above the 

We need to hold the flower of feeling in our hands 
without crushing it. American wives need to squeeze 
through the narrow gates of vanity and self-loathing; Amer- 
ican husbands the same. They both need to give up trying 
to solve the problems of marriage by a pious worrying 
about "our relationship." An active use of ourselves does 
not consist in panicking into fallout shelters, passive politics, 
make-do marriages, jobs defined by that dream world of 
"security." We need to give up the fashion of having 
"insights," which, in a society delighted by psychology 
because it is undelighted by most other things, has become 
a repulsive game of one-upmanship. I insight you; you 
insight me; together we know nothing of value. Instead, 
why don't we engage in some common labor? It is mere 
vanity to go about the earth listening for the rattle in the 
throats of the dying, and a suicidal vanity to listen for it 
in our own throats. Let us stop congratulating ourselves 
on our subjectivity, trying to find the whole number in 
an infinite series of fractions, and start putting two and 
two together. Having "Healthy Goals" is not a proper goal, 
either; leave that to the insurance salesmen and the educa- 
tionists; for if we are alive, goals arise beautifully, like the 


hypotheses of a scientist or the intentions of an artist, cor- 
recting themselves through continuous activity in the con- 
tinuous here and now. 

Nice hobbies for the retired and planned distractions 
for the adolescent cannot disguise the fact that intelligent 
participation in community life in America is increasingly 
difficult. We need more civil defense against the spirit of 
Civil Defense. The notion of intelligent participation in 
one's own life also becomes a paradox when most of an 
intelligent adult's waking hours are spent at a make-it, 
make-out, make-do job. An archetypical confession begins, 
"I was a teen-age senior citizen." Who is old and who is 
young? When is motion a substitute for action, paralysis 
a substitute for patience? If we set out to examine the 
quality of American life in this time of happy problems, 
we must go forth knowing that every issue is in doubt. 
Fortunately, a fine old saying is just as true in its reversed 
form: Doubt moves mountains. 

Perhaps, amid so much doubt about society and per- 
sonality, we should be reminded again of the basic require- 
ment for human life, once the primary demands of food, 
housing, and shelter are met. True, the Russians, the 
Chinese, Africa, world government, missiles, bombs, fall- 
out, highway congestion, sex, and junk mail all present 
problems which fully qualify for personal reflection and 
action. (Mail it back! Return to Sender!) But as individ- 
uals, what we need first of all is to find a work we like; 
and as a nation, a future to believe in, contained within 
an immediate present worthy of respect, engaging our best 
energies. Then the problems of love and "communication," 
boredom and anxiety, delinquency for the young and 
real-estate-promotion pensionvilles for the aged can dimin- 
ish into larger possibilities. When the emphasis is put 
where it belongs, on creative personal and national activity, 
not on a succession of phony goals cranked out by a suc- 
cession of disposable deep thinkers, we will be equipped 


to respond significantly to the great social and political 

These are finally all metaphysical questions, questions 
about the meaning of human life on earth. There is no 
doubt that the whole concept of man and civilization is 
up for grabs. Military weaponry provides a dramatic symbol 
and advance scout of the enemy, but it is only one mani- 
festation of the tendency within men to seek destruction. 
Wide awake, we find ourselves asking a nightmare ques- 
tion: Is humanity possible? An impious question; we must 
ask it. But before we can deal effectively "in general" with 
the menace of race suicide, we must first in particular, 
as individuals, not only believe we have a right to survive 
but also want to survive. 

One of the most popular poems in contemporary 
anthologies of verse is that which concludes: <r We must 
love one another or die." Students and teachers enjoy this 
poem; it expresses a fine, elevating fantasy alternative; 
the proper choice can be made so nice and easy. But the 
poet who wrote it, overtaken by scruple, squirming, appar- 
ently an honest man, has long since revised his thought. In 
later editions of W. H. Auden's work, the poem has a new 
conclusion: "We must love one another and die." It remains 
in its lying form in the anthologies; editors have not yet 
corrected the soft text with the hard truth, which is so 
much more difficult to accept. For the sake of life we must 
try to love one another moral imperative; but we shall 
all die fact no matter what we do. In the meantime, 
loving if we can, we send our lives down the roads of 
possibility, meeting the inevitability of final mortality 
when it comes and, in prospect, at every pause of joy and 
sorrow. And yet, despite death, despite suffering and mur- 
der, despite cruelty and vanity, despite stupidity and in- 
justice and perhaps, indeed, because of these natural 
enemies in the jungle of society which is a part of the 
jungle of nature we can take joy in the power we are 


given toward recognition and remedy of defeat and toward 
the exercise of each possible victory of the human spirit. 
This book, then, represents a going and a coming, in 
and out of the cage of self and the cage of the real world. 
I grant that it runs the risk of tourism; tourism, however, 
is a general condition of spirit in our time. Those Southern 
intellectuals who took their stand in an agrarian Dixie with 
a manifesto a generation ago are mostly presently biv- 
ouacked in the North. We carry as much tradition as we 
can bear, but look for our truths where they may wander. 
Both the world and the self are spinning in space. To find 
stable balance while in rapid motion is the dangerous 
modern endeavor. 

An element of presumption remains. How dare we 
fret from our unique privileges about our personal dilemmas 
in a time of mass war, mass destruction, mass inertia, mass 
everything, when the will to death seems to be on the 
way to total and inane triumph? How dare anyone, how 
dare I? There seems to be no other way to think about the 
prime matters of life on earth than to gather the evidence 
from our own particular lives. Otherwise we fall victim to 
what I think of as the Uncle Distortion. "Let's talk about 
things in general/' asked my uncle. 

"What about?" 

"Things in general." 

"But what about?" 

"Things in general, didn't you hear me? You've been 
to college," he said irritably. "You should be able to talk 
about things in general." 

But I'd rather not; and I'd better not. 

Instead, through place and situation, time and event, 
these essays attempt another sort of reckoning with the 
voyage projected through fictions and characters in my 
stories and novels. Truth is truth only by a defiant mar- 
riage of words and acts. (I mean here true statement about 
how we live and how we should live and why.) How can a 


conventional symbol, a word, be joined to a specific, never- 
to-be-repeated experience thrown up in time? That is a 
perpetual question in the history of thought about the act 
of thinking. The word, which is a distorting glass, is also 
the only means we have toward knowledge. Marriage, 
which is a distorting convention about love, wrenches two 
creatures out of one life and puts them together again in 
a new and altered one. There is an excuse for marriage. It 
builds as it distorts. There is an excuse for microscopes 
and telescopes (though they do indeed distort) and so ' 
there may also be an excuse for words in general and for 
these particular words, written to various ends in various 
places, over a dozen years, and yet coming round to some 
repeated general points about our lives together in America. 
There is a connection between a specific busted gambler 
in the Western Union office in Reno, writing that practical, 
insane, collect poem which goes RUN OF LUCK SEND MONEY 
QUICK, and the way we all live now, the anxious shuddering 
through our lives of politics, love, work, and expectations 
for the future. 

Accidents of autobiography, observation in streets and 
books, generalizing theory, experimental hypothesis, the 
tentative and the evanescent these are the accumulations 
of an effort at specific focus. I have not even excluded 
ideas about literature as a legitimate part of thought about 
the real world. Inconsistencies appear regularly; contra- 
dictions are a steady part of the enterprise; but I have hoped 
to give the evidence in experience for judgments; and in 
this, the habit of telling stories the habit of the true lie 
is of good service. Discreetly I warn myself, however, 
against the danger of seduction by what we can now recog- 
nize as the Nephew Distortion an oblivious, dreamy trust 
in particularity and the intercourse of thought and event 

A note about the psychology of creation should be 
made here. Some poets commit suicide. But not in the 
middle of the working day. For the poet or novelist at 


work, even the most depressed one, a cock-crow of relish in 
nature sounds through the dawn air. He knows that if he 
tracks the cock by his call, he may find a bedraggled 
rooster howling from the top of a dungheap while the 
chicks pluck corn, the hens shuffle feathers. Which doesn't 
mean that the cock's song is not really triumphant. And the 
poet too, judging himself and the world most severely, 
nonetheless finds the world and himself worthy of the loud 
call of judgment, at least while he is at his labor of song. 
He keeps libidinous and happy with the hope of mastering 
his experience. 

We have now touched upon a revelation which must 
seem shameful to the puritan heart. Let us give it away 
brazenly. The scientist, the philosopher, or the artist always 
takes a secret pleasure in the vividness of his feelings and 
the power of his invention, even if the occasions which 
elicit them are tragic. Trudging across the world with the 
common sack of morality on his back ("He still has that 
sack!" Henry David Thoreau), the poet may condemn 
himself with the puritan's shame. What right has he to 
make joyous explorations in suffering? But he does. Why 
should Dostoevski ease his guilt for even a moment by the 
monuments he erects upon his dark excavations? He does 
anyway. This self-love and/or self-hatred may be a flaw 
and is certainly an injustice viewed from the traditional 
ideal of democracy, in which privilege is won only as a loan 
or a mandate. But there is a justification in history and 
in democratic intention (Fortunate that there is a justifi- 
cation; otherwise it would go unjustified! ) Life in the world 
and the life of art are alike in this, that we are awakened 
to reality by tragedy, dulled by inferior imagination and 
a clogged, eventless passage through experience. We need a 
deepening of the sense of reality more than we need an 
inflation of moral okayness. Anxiety is caused more by 
boredom than by any other sort of suffering. To see clearly, 
playfully, with sorrow, inventively clearly must be left 


as an individual option even in a tragic time. The fact 
of death has always been democratic; the chance of sudden 
death has never been so impartially shared; but no two 
deaths are alike. To act with love upon vision is still the 
best aim we can give the living soul. 

And who knows if that modern faith may not yet be 
redeemed? that to understand and to feel can make the 
condition of mortality habitable. Stoicism provides a leaky 
roof, but the best one available to the private citizen while, 
chortling furiously in his kitchen, weaving his fuses and 
dipping his time bombs, he plots the reform of the universe. 
He might start by venturing out into the rain; he might 
start with the holes in his own roof. 


January 1962 
San Francisco 


American Events 

The Age of Happy Problems 

RECENTLY I HAVE had occasion to live again near my old 
college campus. I went into a hole-in-the-wall bakery where 
the proprietor recognized me after ten years. "You haven't 
changed a bit, son/' he said, "but can you still digest my 
pumpernickel? The stomach gets older, no? Maybe you 
want something softer now a nice little loaf I got here/' 
He had worn slightly. But for me the change was from 
twenty-two to thirty-two, and it is this ten-year time that I 
want to think about the generation which came back from 
the war to finish college on the GI Bill and is now deep into 
its career. We are the generation which knew the Depres- 
sion only through the exhilaration of the burgeoning New 
Deal and the stunned passion of war. I remember the bank 
crash because my mother wept and I said, "If we're poor 
now, can I wear corduroy pants?" For the most part, we 
were taken care of and never hopelessly hunted jobs. Now 
some of us say we are cool, say we are beat; but most of us 
are allrightniks doing okay. We are successful. In the late 
forties and the fifties, it was hard to know economic struggle 
and want and for the most part we didn't experience these 

- 3 * 


traditional elements of youth and it was hard for the skilled 
and the trained not to know success. We did not doubt 
overmuch. We have done well. How well? 

"Money money money/' as Theodore Roethke says. 

I have married my hands to perpetual agitation, 
I run, I run to the whistle of money. 

Money money money 
Water water water 

I should like to take a look at some of the college ideal- 
ists. The lawyer, fascinated by "the philosophy of law/' now 
uses his study to put a smooth surface on his cleverness. 
Cardozo and Holmes? Very interesting, but let's find that 
loophole. The doctor who sent flowers to the first mother 
whose baby he delivered now specializes in "real-estate 
medicine" his practice gives him capital for buying apart- 
ment houses. The architect who sat up all night haranguing 
his friends about Lewis Mumford and Frank Lloyd Wright 
now works for a mass builder who uses bulldozers to level 
trees and slopes, then puts up tri-level, semi-detached, 
twenty-year-mortgaged, fundamentally identical dormitories 
for commuters. He admits that his designs make no decent 
sense, but they do have that trivial, all-importaut meaning: 
"It's what the market wants, man. You'd rather Ftaught city 
planning for six thousand a year?" 

The actor becomes a disc jockey, the composer an 
arranger, the painter a designer; the writer does TV scripts 
in that new classic formula, "happy stories about happy peo- 
ple with happy problems." How hard it is to be used at our 
best! One of the moral issues of every age has been that of 
finding a way for men and women to test, reach, and over- 
reach their best energies. Society has always worked to level 
us. Socrates has always made it hot for the citizens in the 
market place. But there was usually room for the heroic 
hemlock not a serious deterrent and perhaps rarely so 


much room on all levels as in the frontier turbulence of the 
nineteenth and early twentieth century in America. Hands 
reached out like the squirming, grasping, struggling railroad 
networks; the open society existed; freedom had a desperate 
allure for the strongly ambitious, and men stepped up to 
take their chances Abraham Lincoln and William James, 
Mark Twain and Melville, Edison and Rockefeller and 
Bet-a-Million Gates. 

Allowing for a glitter of nostalgia on what we imagine 
about the past, still something has happened to change the 
old, movemented, free, open American society to something 
persuasive, plausible, comfortable, and much less open. We 
are prosperous, we get what we think we want, we have a 
relatively stable economy without totalitarian rule. "I'm not 
selling out/' my friend the architect says, "Fin buying in" 
Without attempting a simple explanation of the causes of 
this age of happy problems, let us look at its consequences 
for the new postwar young people who should be in full 
action toward their ambitions and the surest, sturdiest signs 
of a civilization's health. 

What are these personal symptoms? How is the vital 
individual human creature doing in his staff meetings, at his 
family's table, over the baby's bassinet, and with that distant 
secret self that he may sometimes meet at the water cooler? 
Well, for this man it is very hard to be exceptional. Talent 
apart, he has too much to do, too much on his mind, to give 
himself over to his best energies. Think, for example, of the 
writers in the advertising agencies, on TV, or in the col- 
leges. They all wanted to write great books; they tend now 
to prefer "competence" as an ideal to greatness. Some of 
them are trying, but they risk the situation of the girl in the 
short-story writing class: "I can't be a creative writer, I can't, 
because I'm still a stupid virgin." She will take up going 
steady, she will take up marriage; she will be mildly disap- 
pointed; she will remain as she was, but aging "adjusted," 


"integrated/' virgin to danger, struggle, and the main chance 
of love and work. 

In composite, in our thirties, we of this prosperous and 
successful generation are still in good health and rather fast 
at tennis (but practicing place shots which will eliminate 
the need to rush the net); hair receding but still attractive 
to college girls, or at least recent graduates; a slight heaviness 
at the middle which makes us fit our jackets with especial 
care (sullen jowls beginning, too) or, if not that, a skinni- 
ness of anxiety (etching around the mouth, dryness of lips) . 
We go to an athletic club. We play handball in heavy shirts 
"to sweat it off." 

The girls we marry are beautiful in wondrous ways. Sa- 
vant make-up is no longer sufficient. Blemishes are scraped 
until the skin is pink and new; scars are grown away by corti- 
sone injections what reason to be marked in this world?; 
noses are remade, the same for mother and daughter, just like 
heredity. Money is spent much more gracefully than in 
those fantastic times when silver coins were put in ears and 
jewels in navels. 

The old truth "we must all come from someplace" is 
amended in 1956. We can create ourselves in our own image. 
And what is our own image? The buttery face in the Pond's 
advertisement, the epicene face in the Marlboro publicity. 

The matters that we are told to worry about and per- 
haps we think we worry about them do not really trouble 
us. The prospect of war is like a vague headache, no worse. 
The memory of war is even dimmer. A depression is some- 
thing which will reduce the value of our shares in the mutual 
fund, make us keep the old car another year. Radioactive 
fallout and the slow destruction of the human species 
through cancerous mutation well, what is so much bother 
to imagine cannot really come to pass. Who lets the news- 
paper interfere with a good meal? 


Still, we are not blithe spirits; birds we are not. This 
generation is particularly distinguished by its worry about 
making its wives happy, about doing right by its kids (title 
of a hugely popular paperbound book: How to Play with 
Your Child), about acquiring enough leisure and symbols 
of leisure, which it hopes to cash in for moral comfort. 
Fortune reports a method used by salesmen to get the sec- 
ond room air conditioner to the couple which already has 
one in its bedroom. "The machine operates as expected? 
Fine! You sleep better with it? So do I, that's just dandy. 
But, friends, let me tell you how I sleep so much better now 
that I know my kiddies are cool and comfy, too." 

ITiis capitalizes on the child-oriented anxiety which the 
class known commercially as Young Marrieds has been 
taught to feel by modern psychiatry. Advertisements for 
-McCdZ/X "The Magazine: of Togetherness/' demonstrate 
Togetherness in a brilliant summer scene. The man, wear- 
ing a white skirtiike apron and a proud simper, is bending 
to serve a steak to his wife (summer frock, spike heels) , who 
will season it for them and for their happy gamboling chil- 
dren. The little boy and girl are peeking and smiling. The 
wife is lying in a garden chair. Togetherness consists in the 
husband's delighting his wife and kids by doing the cooking. 

Actually, of course, most American women don't want 
to go this far. They are already equal with men. Women are 
usually too wise to define "equal" as "better than." It is not 
momism or any such simple psychological gimmick that 
tells this sad tale. The consumer culture in which leisure 
is a menace to be met by anxious continual consuming 
devours both the masculinity of men and the femininity of 
women. The life of consuming requires a neuter anxiety, 
and the pressure to conform, to watch for our cues, to con- 
sume, makes us all the same we are customers only with 


slightly different gadgets. Women have long bought men's 
shirts; men are buying colognes with ''that exciting musky 
masculine tang." 

Togetherness represents a curious effort by a woman's 
magazine to bring men back into the American family. 
Togetherness does not restore to the man a part of his old- 
time independence. It does not even indicate that he may 
be the provider with an independent role defined partly by 
ambitions outside his family. Instead, it suggests the joys of 
being a helpmate, a part of the woman's full life, and battens 
greedily on the contemporary male's anxiety about pleasing 
his wife. The Togetherness theme has been a great commer- 
cial success. A full-page advertisement by that canny old 
American institution, the New York Stock Exchange, shows 
a photograph of a harried young man pleading with a young 
woman on a parlor couch. She remains unconvinced, pout- 
ing, hands gloved and folded together, as brutal as the 
shocked beauties in the classical halitosis or B.O. tragedies. 
The caption reads: "Is the girl you want to marry reluctant 
to say Yes? Do you need to build character with your wife? 
Then just use the magic words: I'LL START A MONTHLY IN- 


It used to be thought that answering economic needs 
was the main purpose of man's economic efforts. Now, how- 
ever, an appeal to emotional insecurity about money with- 
out crass financial trouble can do good work for an 
advertiser. "Do you need to build character with your wife?" 
This is whimsey with a whammy in it. Money works sym- 
bolically to stimulate, then assuage male doubts. 

SHE: What can the stock do for our marriage? 

HE: It can help keep it sweet and jolly because when 

we own stock we are part-owners of the company. 

In the image projected by this advertisement, the wife 
is prosecutor, judge, and jury. She may fall into a less exalted 
role, ho\yever, while her husband is downtown making the 


money which will go for food, clothing, shelter, and sound 
common stocks. That she too frets about keeping her mar- 
riage sweet and jolly is obvious. The popular media again 
point to trouble while pitching a new solution to her prob- 
lems. One of the former radio soap operas is now sponsored 
by Sleep-eze. Apparently almost everyone uses soap these 
days, but not everyone has caught on to the virtues of non- 
habit-forming sedatives. Want your husband to love you? 
This pill will help or your money back. "Ladies! Fall asleep 
without that unsightly twisting and turning." 

It's time to mention Barbara. A tough wise creature of a 
girl, Barbara comes to this observation out of her marriage 
and love life: "Men worry too much about making the girl 
happy. We seem to scare them out of themselves. Let them 
really be pleased that's what we want most of all and 
then we'll be happy. Delighted. But really." 

In other words, long live primary narcissism! And sec- 
ondary. And tertiary. But let us call it by an older, better 
name respect for the possibilities of the self. This includes 
the possibility of meaningful relationships with meaningful 


Our wounds as a people in this time and place are not 
unique in kind, but the quality of difference makes this 
a marvelously disturbing period. The economic problem, no 
longer rooted in hunger for essential goods, food, housing, 
clothing, is an illustration of the difference. Sure, we are 
still busy over food but packaged foods, luxury foods, 
goodies in small cans; housing but the right house in the 
right neighborhood with the right furnishings and the right 
mortgage; clothing but the cap with the strap in the back, 
Ivy League pants, charcoal gray last year and narrow lapels 
this year, and male fashions changing as fast as female. 

It used to be thought that, given money, relative job 


security, and the short work week, culture would then bloom 
like the gardens in the suburbs and the individual spirit 
would roar with the driving power of a Thunderbird getting 
away after a red light. 

Who could have predicted that we would have to keep 
pace with a cultural assembly line in the leisure-time sweat- 
shop? At least in the older sweatshop, you sighed, packed, 
and left the plant at last. Now we are forever harassed to 
give more, more, more. We no longer have to keep up with 
the Joneses; we must keep up with Clifton Fadiman. He is 
watching you. The steady pressure to consume, absorb, par- 
ticipate, receive, by eye, ear, mouth, and mail, involves a 
cruelty to intestines, blood pressure, and psyche unparalleled 
in history. The frontiersmen could build a stockade against 
the Indians, but what home is safe from Gilbert Highet? 
We are being killed with kindness. We are being stifled with 
cultural and material joys. Our wardrobes are full. What we 
really need is a new fabric that we don't have to wrinkle, 
spot, wash, iron, or wear. At a beautiful moment in Wdden, 
Thoreau tells how he saw a beggar walking along with all his 
belongings in a single sack on his back. He wanted to weep 
for the poor man because he still had that sack to carry. 

The old-style sweatshop crippled mainly the working 
people. Now there are no workers left in America; we are al- 
most all middle class as to income and expectations. Even 
the cultural elite labors among the latest in hi-fi equipment, 
trips to Acapulco and Paris, the right books in the sewn 
paper editions (Elizabeth Bowen, Arnold Toynbee, Jacques 
Barzun these are the cultivated ones, remember), Fortune 
and the Reporter, art movies and the barbecue pit and the 
Salzburg music festival. It is too easy to keep up with the 
Joneses about cars and houses, but the Robert Shaw Chorale 
is a challenge. In the meantime, the man in the sweatshop is 
divorced or psychoanalyzed (these are perhaps remedies in 
a few cases); he raises adjusted children, or kills them try- 
ing; he practices Togetherness in a home with a wife who 


is frantic to be a woman and a nonwoman at the same time; 
he broods about a job which does not ask the best that he 
can give. But it does give security; it is a good job. (In col- 
lege this same man learned about the extreme, tragic in- 
stances of desire. Great men, great books. Now he reads 
Evelyn Waugh.) 

In his later, philosophical transmogrification, David 
Reisman consoles the radar-flaunting other-directeds by hold- 
ing out the reward of someday being "autonomous" if they 
are very, very good. Same thing, brother, same thing. When 
he describes the autonomous personality's "intelligent" dis- 
tinctions among consumer products, exercising his creative 
imagination by figuring out why High Noon is a better 
western than a Gene Autry, well, then, in the words of Elvis 

Ah feel so lonely, 

Ah feel so lo-oh-oh-lonely. 

We're in Heartbreak Hotel where, as another singer, Yeats, 
put it: 

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
Are filled with a passionate intensity. 

Refusal to share to the fullest degree in the close amity 
of the leisure-time sweatshop is for Mr. Riesman & kind 
of ethical bohemianism. His autonomous consumer, socia- 
ble, trained, and in the know, is a critic of the distinctions 
between the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Reader's 
Subscription, Inc., marks the really good shows in his TV 
guide, buys educational comic books for his children, tastes 
the difference in fine after-dinner coffee, knows that the 
novel is a dead form and why. Bumper to bumper in the 
traffic home from work, or jammed into the commuter train, 
he has plenty of time to think. And he does think (thinking 
means worrying) while the radio blares "The House with 


he Stained Glass Window" or "The Magic of Believing/' 
little rock-and-roll philosophical number. 

Does he have a moral problem, let's say, about leaving a 
hanging neighborhood "for the sake of the children"? He 
s a liberal, of course, but after all, the Negroes who are mov- 
ng in come from a different world, and he should not inflict 
lis principles on his children. Still, there is a certain discom- 
ort. He discusses it with his analyst. Why does he suffer 
rom this moral qualm? Does it have some link with the 
jver-ambiguous relationship with parents? What moral 
Droblem? They are all psychological. Anxiety can be con- 
umed like any product. And from his new, split-level, sap- 
ing-planted housing development he speeds into the city 
low ten miles further out. 

We are a disappointed generation. We are a discon- 
ented people. Our manner of life says it aloud even if dis- 
creetly our public faces smile. The age of happy problems has 
>rought us confusion and anxiety amid the greatest material 
comfort the world has ever seen. Culture has become a con- 
;olation for the sense of individual powerlessness in politics, 
vork, and love. With gigantic organizations determining 
Dur movements, manipulating the dominion over self which 
done makes meaningful communion with others possible, 
ive ask leisure, culture, and recreation to return to us a sense 
}f ease and authority. But work, love, and culture need to 
:>e connected. Otherwise we carry our powerlessness with 
is onto the aluminum garden furniture in the back yard. 
Power lawn mowers we can buy, of course. 

The solution in our age of happy problems is not to in- 
>tall (on time) a central air-conditioning system and a color 
IV this year because the room air conditioner and the black- 
md-white TV last year did not change our lives in any im- 
portant respect. The solution is not in stylish religious 
conversions or a new political party. The answer is not 
jven that Panglossian fantasy about "the autonomous per- 
:onality" which will naturally emerge out of the fatal meet- 


ing of the other-directed consumer with a subscription to 
the Saturday Review. 

The ache of unfulfilled experience throbs within us. 
Our eyes hurt. Vicarious pleasures buzz in our heads. Isn't 
there something more, something more? 

There is still awareness; there is still effort. "It should be 
every man's ambition to be his own doctor/' This doesn't 
mean that he should not see a dentist when his tooth hurts, 
perhaps a psychoanalyst when his psyche hurts; but he must 
hold in mind the ideal maximum of humanity the exercise 
of intelligence and desire within a context of active health. 
The Stoic philosophers had a great, although impossible, 
idea for these crowding times: cultivate your own garden. 
We cannot retreat from the world any more we never really 
could but we can look for our best gardens within the 
world's trouble. There we must give ourselves silence and 
space; we can see what the will wants; we can make deci- 
sions. Only then having come to terms with our own par- 
ticularities can we give the world more than a graceless, 
prefabricated commodity. 

Hope? Some sweet Barbara is hope. And a work we love. 
And the strength, O Lord, not to accept the easy pleasures 
(easy anxieties) which have pleased us (made us anxious) 
so far. And the strength, O Lord, you who reign undefined 
above the psychoanalysts and the sociologists, the market 
researchers and the advertising agencies, the vice-presidents 
and the book clubs, to refuse the easy solutions which have 
becalmed us so far. 

Then with good belly luck we will be able to digest 
strong, irregular, yeasty, black bread. 


How to Be an Artist's Wife 

HERE is A NORMAL CASE: a girl meets a young man at a col- 
lege party. Let us say he wears a red flannel shirt, leans 
against the fireplace with superior ease and turns upon the 
girl a pair of eyes whose ferocious intensity is half ambition 
and half near-sightedness. At this age no special achievement 
or public virtue has yet graced him, but his head is a con- 
victed one. He is a writer, a painter, a musician, some species 
of fanatic doodler in short, an artist. All he wants of his 
future is to master the mystery of personality and commu- 
nicate a sense of the glory of life on earth; he is hell-bent 
for immortality. And that's all he wants. 

In the meantime, very young, he has only his burning 
with a hard, gemlike flame a variety of pouting and 
sulking to keep him company at the parly. He is there- 
fore rather lonely and, for the very good reason that this 
girl has slim ankles, sleek legs and excellent articulations all 
the way up to her scalp, he tells her about himself. Having 
temporarily run out of steam about his life story, he suggests 
that they go out for coffee. Turnabout is fair play. He now 
begins to tell her all about herself. 



"I like the way you talk/' she remarks speculatively. 

"And your eyes remind me of . . ." he answers. 

Later, after many walks, talks, long afternoons and 
longer evenings, the girl decides that it would be nice to 
join this odd creature on his voyages. That at first he was 
an angry mystery, like jazz, pleases her she cracked the 
nut. That he has doubts and dreads and moments of ter- 
rible flagging arouses her he will always need her. That 
he will be a distinguished figure amid the ruck of plump 
merchants, young executives and "professionals" whom her 
college friends marry this tickles a fond young lady with a 
bit of spunk and a romantic itch to astonish the folks back 

And with her help, she solemnly resolves, he will 
surely be a Great Man some day. In the meantime, even 
if not yet great, he is greatly skilled at coaxing and cajoling, 
at little flattering rhymes and sudden gifts, in short, at 
making her feel desired and capable of desire. He is no arty 
egotist, oh no, not he, like those other characters on 
campus. He believes that her personality is a code worth 
deciphering and that all individuals are magical and that 
each human creature testifies to the only divinity that mat- 

Not just his own red-flannel and myopic soul. Hers 

"He is a big person/' she assures her roommate and 
then adds, with intense feminine realism: "Or at least 
I think he can be. Ill have to knock some of the preten- 
tiousness out of him first Oh, but he's wonderful!" 

They commune together as two people have never 
before communed kisses and hamburgers and relish and 

And Time is a metaphor of change, and every event 
is unique, and only through art can we take a hold on this 
perpetual flux, and the life that risks all to attain all is 


the only true one, and let's run away to a justice of the 
peace. And so they are married. 

What then? 

The first thing, true for every marriage, is that neither 
knew what they were getting into. Marriage is always a sur- 
prise, full of risks and possibilities, a dangerous creative 
act. Unless mated by parents or chill calculation, they 
begin with the artist's defiance of history: "We will sculpt, 
paint, dance, compose that unique work of the imagination 
which we have a hunch can be made to live The Couple!" 

Of course, there are ways of putting an end to this un- 
predictable adventure. One partner can devour the other, 
as the queen wasp does so gracefully: she flies very high, 
chased by the drones, until she chooses one desperate love 
and mates with him, a mile up in the sky, then eats his 
head and returns to earth dangling his entrails; and fatly 
she remembers him by laying eggs. We all know moms 
like the wasp queen. 

Or a man, demanding the security of easy domination, 
can marry a girl who is unattractive to herself and overquick 
to gratitude, therefore content to clean up after him and do 
as the Master saith. 

Or there is a third, very American way of abdicating 
from the powers of marriage. Both partners, dreading 
possibility, dreading risk, dreading life, afraid to stand up 
on their own two legs as individuals, decide to make a 
steadier four-legged creature that the world cannot distress. 
They lean on each other to look out over the city. Like 
the frogs in the old story, propped like that, they see only 
what is behind them and cry out: 'Why, there's nothing 
on the other side of the mountain! Why, the future is 
like the past!" Each plays reassuring parent to the other. 
Marriage for the propped ones brings kitchen warmth and 
no venturing outside into the snow, because it might 
be so cold out there. 

These three marriages are fear yoked to stubbornness. 


They give up the revelations of conflict and the danger 
of a passionate growth together. In order never to face an 
unknown, they are content to have very little to know. 

Well, if our artist is an artist and a man despite his 
love of pretty words or notes, he will not marry the queen 
wasp, the stooping serving maid, or the shy froglet. If our 
girl is pretty, lusty and knows it this is charm she will 
not marry a drone, a master boor, or the amphibian without 
even a jewel in his forehead. 

Instead, they have married each other. 

One moment she is twenty-one, being courted by 
metaphysical verse and stammering hands; the next mo- 
ment, voilbl She is in Paris, "the capital of misery and the 
paradise of hope," breathless before the elegance of the 
Place des Vosges, cooking rabbit and goat in liters of wine, 
watching her husband grow his beard, and informing him 
one fine evening that she is very possibly pregnant. 

"I finished Chapter Seven today. This time it looks 
really good." 

"I think Fd better see that doctor Janine told us 
about/ 7 

"What for?" 

"Listen to me, lout. We're going to have a baby/' 

Cries of celebration, hoots and acrobatics, great tender- 
ness once she gets through to him. Next morning, full 
of importance, he goes off to his rented room and writes 
Chapter Eight at a single fertile sitting. Or stretches a new 
canvas and gets to that tricky abstraction of a guitar on the 
waiting easel. Or figures out how to work an effect of honk- 
ing horns in his Novum Organum for Strings and Brass 
without echoing Gershwin enough for The New York 
Times to notice. 

American marriages being what they are, the husband 
in the case ultimately feels quite as pregnant as the wife. 
Here, as on many occasions, American artist husbands are 
indistinguishable from American nonartist husbands. They 


help with the dishes or feel guilty at not helping; they 
suffer everything but contractions of the uterus at child- 
birth; they wheel buggies built like Sherman tanks, retail 
the gurgles of their offspring and challenge other fathers 
to mortal combat by snapshot. But children, the most obvi- 
ous potentiality of marriage, emphasize the special dangers 
that the artist's wife runs. She is most vulnerable now. 

Despite his several virtues, the artist is likely to fail 
more than most men in living up to the standards of male 
husbandry current in America. Lack of money is probably 
not an important failure to his wife: she can follow him 
as he makes do with the GI Bill, the odd job, the fellow- 
ship, the prize. The important failure is that of fidelity. The 
artist is unfaithful to his wife with the first impudent 
snatch of an idea that comes along. If he is unfaithful 
with women, well, that's a matter of individual character; 
but this other sort of philandering is practically universal. 
In pain and awful loneliness the artist's wife learns to 
recognize the symptoms: a glassing of the eyes as he looks 
a shapely notion up and down, a tense cockiness as he 
draws himself up to court thought, a total withdrawal from 
her or a pretense at participation in family life. This is 
more wounding than the frankest retreat. 

"Did you have a good day, dear?" 


'Thinking, dear?" 

"What? What? Unh?" 

It has been established that the young wife who is 
being responded to at the level of a stare and a grunt is an 
exceptionally pretty, charming, and intelligent being. A 
few artists marry mousy and self-effacing women who 
flutter about on tiptoe in order to avoid disturbing the 
maestro; such women present a wholly different set of 
problems. For the purposes of this discussion I prefer the 
extraordinarily pleasant specimen supplied with such gen- 


erosity by American vitamins and sports and colleges 
keen, artful, looking for that best which she surely de- 

The hard fact about a girl of this excellent sort is that 
she is accustomed, especially in America, to sustained ap- 
proval. She earns it, she gets it, and she comes to require 
it. Having been reared, up through her college days, in a 
culture whose expectations differentiate very little between 
boy and girl, she competes both emotionally and in am- 
bitions with men. At the same time she expects to be 
gratified as a woman by men. No complaint here we 
men are eager to do it. 

Then one day she marries and the picture flickers. 

Abruptly or, if not at once, at least when she begins 
to bear children, she can no longer compete in exactly the 
same way with men. Woman, wife, mother, she has some- 
how to reconcile these roles with her sociology or her 
English lit and her ambitions for a career. 

Many girls do it gracefully. Some fly very high. Some 
fierce ones fly high like the queen wasp. Others, more 
genial, manage to balance a husband and useful work in the 
world without devouring the male. 

In any case, what is common to many intelligent 
young women in America is a need for attention as women 
together with a need to compete with men like men. The 
obvious solution is a combination of career and marriage, 
and it works for some. It may work for some artist's 
wives especially since the financial need presses hard 
among a group whose collective ear is bent so ex- 
clusively toward the poker-faced Muses. (A Muse is 
a Greek divinity, traditionally fond of artists, tradition- 
ally depicted with no pockets in her robes and no purse 
either.) Malcolm Cowley tells the story of a meeting of 
poets who were asked how they survived. The answer from 
the back of the room, with nervous laughter: "Our wives 
teach school." 


This solution, however, is not always available, as for 
example when the desired children appear quickly. In a 
world that reserves its respect for the male's capacity as 
breadwinner in the family, it may not even be a good idea 
for the wife to work while the husband stays home with 
his "hobby." It may be dangerous for the marriage to 
gratify this American girl's itch to compete with men while 
her husband fails to race in the workaday world. These are 
questions that face all working wives, and each couple 
solves them in their own way. If the wife is gifted enough 
to be successful in her job, she and her husband can prob- 
ably be adult about that success. If she does not work or 
if she does, she should be able to show in action her 
respect for her husband's labor. After all, this lovely young 
thing is also a clever and sensible wife despite her failure 
to marry a nice, steady boy; this egotist about eternal 
Beauty and Truth is also a pretty good guy despite his re- 
luctance to don the gray flannel uniform. 

The special problem of our artist and his bride is that 
he is most poorly equipped to supply all the peripheral 
gratifications that compensate many women for being 
women after years of being pseudo-boys, creatures incom- 
prehensibly endowed with nice gimmicks and yielding 
moods. Money, stability of job and home, respectable status, 
these are the least of the compensations. The chief one is 
the steady attendance that the typical American husband 
brings his wife. She is the charming, sensitive, tasteful one; 
she knows all about art and culture; she buys, outfits, equips 
and decorates. "Me?" says an old-style husband. "Oh, I just 
came along to write the check and admire the little lady/* 
And he is present 

The artist isn't Devoured by his steady concern with 
the reality of his work call it egotism, call it the creative 
fire he simply does not have the ability to compart- 
mentalize his life in this way. He does not leave the suburb 


to go bully the city for eight hours, then return fortified 
by his gnawing at "real life" and express his sensitive, 
tender hungers by being a dutiful spouse. He never leaves 
himself except to gather himself more intensely; he lives 
by stripping off his skin; he finds it hard to play a mollifying 
role with his wife. 

Maybe he is too much with her. Surely he is too 
much with himself. A stubborn idealist, he will settle for 
nothing less than the passionate best of love, a confronting 
of mortality in the flavor of flesh how he needs his wife 
to be his true friend! And he may want to keep this wife 
at a letter's distance while he lowers himself into the well 
of his fantasy. He needs to give and take love, and he needs 
her, but he also needs an honorable retreat for a time, 
monklike, prophetlike, "lest human voices wake us and we 

A poet said it like that. "Good-by, honey, see you in a 
few days," our husband says. 

Is she now supposed to cheer him off to his ease while 
suspending herself until he returns? What about the steady 
work of keeping a family going? Unless she is the angel 
that no man deserves, she begins to brood over her many 
dark moments of feeling exploited, excluded, deserted. 

While not usually going so far as to be a character in 
a farce, the artist's wife may try to satisfy her yearnings 
to have a someone there when she needs a someone. (Re- 
member that her husband is traveling in the empyrean, 
or maybe only in New York to see about a gallery.) All 
wives need attention from other men; no one is shocked by 
this. The need of the artist's wife may be greater than most. 
She has given up much; she is not compensated by a man 
who keeps regular working hours and devotes himself en- 
tirely to her on a generous schedule; she feels deprived. 
And she really is. The only justification is that she has a 
kind of spouse that most salesmen's wives do not have, a 


rare bird with a becoming flutter to its wings and some- 
thing more for her than the privilege of cleaning up after 

She must beware of getting her attention from other 
men. It will depress her husband. It will not please her very 
much. It carries more than the pleasant risks of adventure. 

Unfaithfulness will imperil the main chance, which 
is to get that necessary nourishment of love from the 
man she most deeply has chosen. At moments he may 
not be a real husband to her. He may be espoused to 
the stanza or the keyboard; he is far gone and high as a kite. 
But when he comes to earth again he has a special charge 
and vitality for looking to his woman. If she shares his 
intentions she can help him to make her a delight to her- 
self, to him, and thus to those gods who love lovers. The 
muscle and sinews of their bond are exercised by the 
rhythms of withdrawal to creative work, followed by the 
energetic return. If she loved him when she married him, 
lucky for him and lucky for her, perhaps she can wait until 
he comes plummeting down from the sky of his ab- 
straction. After work well done, pleasure shakes the earth. 
Intimacy is a consolation and a reward and a lasting 
virtue, much better than an extra arm or eye for surviving 
difficult times. If both husband and wife are gifted for love, 
they sail proudly through both the close times of intimacy 
and the troubled times of private wrestling. 

Privacy. There again is that matter which is so hard 
about marriage. All right, most husbands want to give it 
up, or pretend to want to give it up. But here is the artist, 
who not only requires solitude for his work but also seems 
to cling to it as a second bride. He treasures it. Darkly he 
runs to its embrace, leaving his wife and children, with the 
conviction born of deep need that this lonely gathering 
of himself is his perfect right It looks like childish egotism, 
Narcissus wanting no one to interrupt while he studies the 
reflection in the pool. Why then doesn't he go all the way 


to self-sufficiency? Does an artist deserve a wife? What 
about the constancy of feeling that is essential to the health 
of marriage? 

That which we call the artist's egotism, if we don't 
like it, has a more sympathetic definition: his awareness 
of the mystery of personality. His sense of privacy is bal- 
anced against his need to open doors to others; a jealous 
integrity of the self labors toward a permanent communion 
with the human race. Toward his wife at one moment 
he holds up a blank no of secrecy she is cruelly excluded; 
then he may demand a loyalty of understanding that suf- 
focates her. When he says yes, he demands that she be all 
the way with him. Tolstoi, for example, at one period in 
his life insisted, under the banner of honesty, on telling 
his wife what she could not bear to hear. He kept a diary, 
confessing all the trivial exasperations and judgments that 
are meant to pass quickly, and he forced her to read it 
every day. What a brutal intimacy! Then later he ran away 
to die in a railroad station rather than remain under the 
same roof with a prying and hysterically devoted woman. 
Go away closer, the artist may seem to be saying, unless 
his wife's movements are in profound sympathy with his. 

In all of this, of course, there is something quite un- 
exceptional. Marriage is strange and difficult for everyone, 
and the elements of strain are common to all. What makes 
the familiar strangeness more difficult to bear is the artist's 
special heightening of it, a need for the privacy of fantasy 
in addition to the other needs for privacy and this at the 
same time that, paradoxically, he demands the gift of pas- 
sionate love, which can calm his awful, self-inflicted loneli- 
ness. This generous and intense dialogue can be undertaken, 
of course. The artist is neither a moral idiot nor a schizo- 
phrenic. The richness of his privacy and his almost religious 
faith in communication are the best warranty of at least 
the possibility of that warmth, concern, devotion to a com- 


mon enterprise and continuing ability to surprise and charm 
which makes great marriages. Sometimes, of course, it's 
the wife who puts on the paint-stained blue jeans or the 
film in the eyes above a battered portable typewriter, and 
then it is the husband who must look resourcefully to him- 
self and wait for the rhythm of renewal and return to carry 
her back to him. The structure of the marriage is similar. 
The mysteries of love and respect for individual personality 
are the great incentives. 

The artist's wife has a good chance if she tries neither 
to judge nor reform her monstrous husband. Being a bit of 
a monster herself or she would have never gotten into 
this fix she may yet approach that perfect union of two 
separate beings which is the dream of marriage. 

At bottom of all this, of course, lies the reminder that 
artists are merely human. The activity of art, defined as 
an ardent making, is not confined to artists. The doctor or 
lawyer, who faces risk with courage, imagination, and the 
ability to seize an unforeseen opportunity, needs the 
strength and devotion of the artist; the businessman who 
gives himself to his idea, making something from nothing 
but his avid will and intelligence, is sailing amid the reefs 
of creativity; even the political man, doomed to hullabaloo 
and intrigue, uses his professional smile and tricks of pub- 
licity to advance a vision that becomes holy as he shapes 
it in the dark night of calculation. An artist is an artist is an 
artist, but few of the rest of us are machines or brutes. 
Every human being in the pell-mell confusion of society 
pursues a lonely quest toward making his dreams coherent 
with what the world allows him. 

The novelty of the artist's marriage can serve us as a 
dramatic example of the risk and glory of the ideal of 
marriage. Achievement in solitude nourishes fruitful union; 
the devoted joining of love leads to a courageous individual 
courting of the unsuspected possibilities of human life on 


earth. Therefore love him hard! Make sure he loves you 

Be strong enough to find security within risk, and ac- 
cept loneliness as a challenge that can lead to the greatest 
joys. Having someone to communicate with is better 
if you are a grown person than having a loyal pet in the 

He will learn, too, though he may not be tamed. 


Divorce as a Moral Act 

"I DIVORCE you for ever and ever, and even death shall not 
break it." 

Divorce is perhaps the extremest moral event which 
we can consummate on earth. It may be an evil act or it 
may be a good one, but it is moral all the way down we 
reach it only with a rope woven of a thousand difficult 
decisions. Marriage, with which divorce might be compared 
under some of its aspects, has an older, premoral character. 
It usually seems to be a good thing, but it is a good act 
called into being without a clear sense of consequences by 
individuals who are led by hope, trust, and desire. Forgive 
them, Lord, they know not what they do. If it is good, 
when it is good, it begins as natural virtue, not moral virtue. 
It is good as growing plants are good out of the impulse 
of life itself. It is good as sleep is good (sleep is a natural 
virtue which the divorced sacrifice) or as waking in the 
morning refreshed is good. Of course, the preservation of 
marriage depends on more than natural virtue, usually to 
the surprise of the married, but these later moral decisions 
have come unanticipated in the flesh. They are initiated 
after the natural act of marriage. 



Natural virtue doing what is right by instinct, habit, 
tradition, or in obedience to some great faith is mostly 
past for man as a species. We are long out of the garden 
of innocence. The angel sent down to expel Adam and Eve 
was the first Reno judge, but we are conservative; despite 
all thunder, trouble, and waste of spirit, we failed to rec- 
ognize him. Now the day of natural virtue, when divorce 
was almost inconceivable, is over. Decisions, decisions! To 
shore up a marriage, despite suffering, sinking, a reign of 
destruction, may be a good or an evil act it is a moral 
decision; the same to enter upon this always new and 
strange compact, within the clutter of bitterness and mis- 
take, among the broken furniture of intentions, in the 
abrupt dead silence, after much thrashing noise, of eternal 
acquiescence in misunderstanding in hushed piety now: 
"I do divorce you and cherish you, through age and new 
marriages, all the way past death's vain effort to part us/' 

For the pulse of marriage is not broken by divorce's 
hemp. With children we cannot even conceive of breaking 
it that eternal physical presence of the new and unend- 
ing family we have created, children having children having 
children, long after we have died. Our being in them is 
never dead ("When, now you tell me w/icn are you coming 
to live at home again, Daddy?" "Never. But 111 come to 
see you every day, unless, unless " "Will I have to get 
a new daddy?" "I'm your daddy and you're my daughter, 
and we won't change that.") The state of being father 
and child, having children, having a parent, never changes, 
although the manner of that being is hurtfully altered. 

Even without children, we have become ourselves 
only together and in our marriage, and we go toward what 
we are becoming only together and in our divorce. Divorce 
is not a dissolving fluid, although it may be a corroding 
acid. It is like marriage but extremer: it is to marriage as 
an explosion is to rust Under certain circumstances an 
oily cloth may smolder and decay under slow oxidation; in 
a tight closet it bursts into fiery life. But all that is meta- 


phor; marriage and divorce are kin in that we have formed 
ourselves together within them. We do not become inno- 
cent now. Your face is mirrored on mine; my body is 
written on yours. Even if we love again and of course 
we will our old marriage grows in the new love. In fact, 
we may only reveal the meaning of our marriage through 
the new love. If we are lucky and good, we will have a 
new marriage which is continuous with the old one. The 
more truly we are loved for ourselves, the more true this 
is. The new lover loves what we can bring; a large part of 
what we can bring comes from the old marriage which 
we created together; the old love is now a vitally changing 
element in our flesh and memory, fantasy and intention. 

If the new love is happy, the old marriage is vindi- 
cated: Through me you have learned to love. Or if not so 
much, at least this: I left you with the strength to be 
happy, an ambition to know love, the suspicion that it is 
possible. Perhaps I have even left you with a belief and a 
brilliant need. Together we have put an end to the mon- 
strous expectations of first marriage, and without cynicism 
we may now go on to what is possible. 

How does a divorce grow into being? Or rather how 
is it decided into being? 

It is always a question of character, not incident; per- 
sonality, not anecdote. Legal briefs are notorious liars, al- 
though such phrases as "Incompatibility" or "Mental 
Cruelty" seem to be pathetic efforts to tell a general truth. 
Divorce appears as almost the absolutely free act because 
almost uncaused that is, caused by anything, by any con- 
stellation of accidents. It is always caused by something 
but the something is never the same. Each divorce is 
unique. Let us dispose of some common simplisms: 

The free personality married to the dependent may 
divorce. The dependent personality married to the de- 
pendent may divorce. And the free married to the free may 


divorce. In the first case the liberal, hard-loving personality 
feels imprisoned by a partner who feels more and more 
afloat, uncared for. In the second case, the two needful, 
lonely ones lean off balance against each other until they 
topple helplessly in a strident crescendo of demand for 
reassurance; they can no longer hear or feel each other 
they have been too close. At last, in their desperation, the 
pain of clawing each other blindly in the dark seems less 
than the pain of bleeding quietly and alone in the dust. 
In the third and strangest case the free and the free it 
is because they are free away from, not toward each other. 

In each case, the origin of divorce is character. The 
dynamics or rather the tactics, since this becomes that 
worst war, civil war are expressed in a series of incidents. 
However, these do not evolve in a straight line. They circle 
each other; they grow upon and nourish each other; is not 
any marriage, as Aristophanes suggests, a body? Divorce 
grows as the pearl grows, as the cancer grows as the pearl 
in some ways, as the cancer in others. The pearl of divorce 
may be ejected by a powerful oyster. The malignancy, once 
started, is generally irreversible and proliferates with rapid 
fibrous insistence while the rest of the body wastes and rots. 

Again: A grit of disagreement becomes, by accretion, 
an intolerable burden when it is not a cause of trouble but 
a symptom. The body of marriage is working against itself. 
Like the seed of the pearl, the grit torments this oyster, 
which increasingly busies itself with it, and so it grows; 
like the cancer, it steals the strength needed for health, thus 
mysteriously nourished through novel conduits; and like 
the goiter on a neck, it is soon all that you can see. This 
sort of grit may take years to mature within the life of its 
host: the marriage resists, resists, and its struggles leave 
sores, scars, and crippled healing. 

When they can no longer bear the agonies of distrust 
and the weariness of effort, the couple parts, in longing 
and sorrow, with great staring tenderness. This false revival 


of the old moody courting is like the pertness of the last 
moments of a wasting illness. Dissolution follows fast; no 
longer virgin to divorce, they fly apart in a sensual rage 
quarreling about money, property, those things which never 
troubled them before, bitter about her use of make-up and 
his clumsy slouch, spinning off into contempt in order to 
sear and so seal the wound. 

True remissions sometimes occur and false remis- 
sions. A springtime, a miraculously tender evening when 
desire and expectation meet but these are reminders, de- 
pending on sentimentality, and the foreboding returns first 
and then the disease. The true remission of any disease, 
in the face of destruction, seems an almost divine inter- 
vention. With death plucking at your sleeve, the body 
writhes in anger and joy, "something clicks," and the 
course and pattern become what they have not been. 
Sometimes; rarely. In the face of the death of divorce 
I am speaking here of people who have loved each other 
at the worst and darkest moment when they feel spiders 
in their ears and mice at their hearts they may reject their 
monstrous denial of the past. Does it really happen? It 
can; at least we can imagine it, and that is enough to make 
it possible. 

On the other hand, the healthy divorce may be the 
necessary radical cure of character. It is not merely surgical, 
although it aches as much as surgery: the divorce disen- 
tangles living flesh which has entwined and even grown 
together. It is systemic; and with all its pain, it may be the 
sign of a cure. 

For example, her father was an alcoholic, say, and she 
never could fight him through about it. Her mother failed, 
naturally, but she. ... So she marries an alcoholic, finds 
it impossible, and is freed of her father for the next mar- 
riage. Here is another trivial, overschematic example. His 
mother was a manager; he could not disengage himself; he 


crawled into another manager's pen. But lo, under threat 
of extinction as a man, he is not a child and he can free 
himself. Now having practiced successfully against his 
mother, he no longer needs to defeat her. He can even find, 
next, the yielding, giving, and responsible woman whom 
the glare of his mother's rage hid from him. 

All examples are radically falsifying. Divorce is a fragile 
snowflake in the December sun. Who breathes on it de- 
cides for himself about it. 

And there is something still more subtle, clever, and 
diseased: we may make our wife or husband into the image 
of the unconquered parent, just in order, later, to destroy 
it. This is pathetic and comic. You were chosen, but you 
did not know for what, and pressed into service against your 
will, but slowly, gradually, so that you did not know what 
you were doing, and then at the moment of ripeness, 
when you are perfectly what your partner needs you to be 
the knife! Perhaps the squealing cattle should organize 
against the slaughter, but they did not see the end, only 
the busy chain of events in the yard. And you were, very 
likely, too busy making your own effigy. This is painful. 
These are the very bad divorces, where there was no thou- 
saying ever, where human beings were used as tools. We 
should warm ourselves by the good divorces, rare though 
they are. 

"Will you go to dinner with me?" he asks. 

"No/ 7 she says, "I have a jealous husband." And the 
smile of complicity: he might find out, but if he 
doesn't. . . . The husband is used, rearranged, scrambled, 
an image formed totally of her uses for him. She does 
not think: I love him. Instead, she refuses the invitation 
with smug, mouth-narrowing thoughts of possessions: he 
is jealous. This woman is unfaithful even if she never 
enters another's bed. Her husband feels her infidelity in 
their own bed in her passivity, in her absent devouring 


of his substance. She needs him, true; he may take that 
for love. She wants him perhaps. She cannot do without 

But even in his arms she is unfaithful. She cannot 
love anyone but her incomplete, uncompletable self. She 
yearns to exist, but her yearning is a bottomless pit down 
which her husband and children careen. 

I keep promising myself not to use examples. There 
are too many individual members of divorce. As to inci- 
dent, all marriages suggest them money, infidelity, bore- 
dom, should we go out or should we read, in what manner 
shall we love, how many children do we want. Ways of 
being parents and friends. Taking and given ways. These 
matters are all symptoms of character. True, they also 
change character. But when they attack the marriage, it is 
in their role as symptoms. All married people can supply 
their own instances. Every marriage is a potential divorce. 

So we are practical. "The children think!'' Those 
who for so many reasons need too much of love can do 
nothing to preserve a form of marriage for the sake of the 
children. They perpetuate their own suffering in their chil- 
dren, of course, but they can do nothing else. 

Back for another moment to the knotty question of 
infidelity. Imagine this: a woman who feels wronged tells 
her husband of infidelities with a man now living abroad. 
They struggle tears, beatings, desperate lovemaking as the 
husband strives to possess her for himself. At last he for- 
gives her. When does she leave him? When does the mar- 
riage fly apart for all to see? 

When the husband discovers that it is a lie, that she 
had been helplessly true to him, that she had fought in 
this hysterical way to gain ascendancy over him. Now she 
feels judged utterly, and with no strength to give and take 
from him, she gives up. She finds that last creative strength 
of character necessary to tear herself from him. Either that 
or suicide. 


Rare? Mythological? Yes, but it tells how much we 
need infidelity, and it tells how much we can bear to suffer, 
and it tells what we finally cannot bear. We can suffer 
the hurt of strength even the unsure, petty strength of a 
three-week stand, fragile and self-denying; we cannot suf- 
fer the wound administered by weakness by weakness 
aware of its weakness and being nothing but weak. 

It is said that the widow who was truly devoted to 
her husband is the one who has faith in marriage, believes 
in love, marries again. The unhappily married, unfulfilled 
man or woman, having his problem fantastically solved by 
a death he only dreamed of, must mourn forever guiltily, 
regretfully, guiltily. He must even invent a justificatory bliss 
in the past. Gray-faced, always in mourning, his life is over. 

No I cries the grief-stricken true lover when the time 
of sharpest bite is finished. This no is a yes to life. No, no, 
love is too important to pass out of my life by this accident. 
My dead lover tells me this: he wants me to have the best 
part of his legacy, and this is the power to give and take 
love. This widow or widower inspires love, deep and sensual 
love, at any age; and gives and takes it, A new sharing 
occurs on earth the best gift which earth offers everyone 
in the democracy of blood. 

May it not be, in the same way, that only the divorced 
couple who sometimes were truly happy and loving have 
the chance to find love again? The good divorce is that 
between two who have once loved each other. Justly they 
may pity the bad divorce that of beings who have merely 
made mistakes, merely rectified mistakes, merely repeated 
old errors bred in the family. The bad divorce is the one 
of diminished decision: submission to a painful pattern, a 
deathly cure by living through the sins of the fathers. The 
good divorce dares to love again as only the widow who 
was happy can dare to give up her fabricated memories. 

Good luck! Let us divorce tenderly, and believe in each 
other forever. 1957 

The Bachelor's Dilemma 

THE CONFIRMED BACHELOR can be defined as the man who 
has the courage of his lack of convictions. Once he hasn't 
made his mind up, he really sticks to it. Swinging more 
and more wildly from his loosening trapeze, he is another 
reeling acrobat in the disorganized circus of American love 
and marriage. 

Let us look at him with magical omnipresence from 
a privileged station in the air above a big-city party. It could 
be anywhere in America New York, Cleveland, Chicago, 
St Louis, Houston, Denver, San Francisco. There is a 
crowd busy, talkative, curious, and anxious of human 
creatures hoping for amusement. Chink of glasses, gaggle 
of laughter, roll of eye. The bachelor enters alone. 

What does the wife see? Sometimes she sees him as a 
bad example for her own husband, but more often she has 
tender feelings for him. She sees forbidden possibility: a 
handsome, perfect cavalier, perhaps, mysterious and chal- 
lenging unlike her all-too-real, all-too-known, heavy, snor- 
ing husband, (The bachelor never snores in the fancy of 
this lady.) Or she knows he is lonely and she sees a sweet 

. 34 . 


lost lad to be comforted. Or she sees a combination of 
challenge and need. She wants to feed him, ease him of sor- 
row, perhaps she tucks a tooth into her thoughtful lip 
perhaps find him someone. Or, in some cases, if she and 
he are crowded into a corner with their drinks in their 
hands, she finds herself whispering those strange, hasty 
words in that bizarre language of invitation: "Call me. Call 
me. Hang up if a man answers/' 

What does the husband see? He may see a lucky man 
who has avoided the tender trap (a trap baited only with 
hope and desire) or a man who has been able to undo 
the clamps by brute force. He claps him on the back and 
says, "Still got your pick of things, eh Jack?" Or he sees 
a poor fellow who hasn't yet tasted the joys of children, 
hearth, steady conjugal affection. Or a paltry jokester, still 
trying to make out of an evening, like a fraternity boy or a 
conventioneer. Or perhaps he sees a challenge and a rival. 
("Funny thing keeps happening. I answer the phone and 
the party on the other end hangs up.") 

What does the girl see? Ah, she scents rather than sees. 
She recognizes a possible catch. But if he carries the reputa- 
tion of a confirmed bachelor, the girlish mind boggles 
before vague threats from Sunday supplements and ancient 
movies weekends at ski lodges, abrupt petulance and 
shortness of mood, flowers and candy, and then echoing 
silence heaped up about her while she shrivels into scorned 
spinsterhood. . . . She blinks. He approaches. He has nice 
teeth. He's a pleasant chap no spats, cane, or waxed 
mustache. Still, she has been told that he has run through 
a dozen like her, and that his gray temples may bespeak 
merely an ironic heart. But I am different, she decides 
bravely. Let's see, if I spread my net in front of the canap6 
table, and bait it with dimples, promises of home cooking, 
and "What kind of work do you do?" 

What does another bachelor see? A comrade, a rival, 
a friend with one button missing from his shirt, who is 


likely to bore him with complaints and then steal his girl. 

The hostess sees the available extra man. The food 
table little bits of things placed upon little bits of things 
sees a gobbling mouth which has skipped dinner. And 
perhaps the psychiatrist sees a patient Our individual con- 
firmed bachelor in his J. Press suit turns out to have about 
as many identities as there are people in the room. 

And what does he see when he looks into the bath- 
room mirror in his studio apartment while dressing for this 
party? Perhaps he sees a healthy young man with plenty 
of time, money (as much as the Bureau of Internal Rev- 
enue allows him to keep), opportunity, willingness for ad- 
venture. He is all set and the lights are winking on and the 
evening is before him. No wife will make demands; no child 
will wake him later; he can eat, drink, and wander where, 
when, and how he pleases; he has the initiative. He can 
look over the world and take his pick and accept the chal- 
lenge of fighting for her, or her, or HER. He dwells in realms 
of liberal choice. He has time for everything, visions and 
decisions and revisions. Showered, shaved, brushed, he 
finds himself the freest man on earth, if only he be willing 
to define the world narrowly and shrewdly enough. 

Or he may discover somebody else in that mirror. 

He stares and sees the frazzled face of the undecided 
man who slides down the razor blade of time lonely, 
bored, lonely, lonely, and lonely. Asked why he finally 
married, one ex-bachelor said, "I got sick of that same old 
face in the bathroom mirror." He is tormented by a twist- 
ing loneliness which, oddly enough, feels to the belly very 
much like the pain of jealousy. But here we find just one 
person involved, a straight line any way you turn him, not 
three people, a triangle, as in the socialized pain of jealousy. 
He has less to contemplate; he has only his solitary, re- 
tracted state. The bachelor often suffers from indigestion 
and incipient ulcers. Too much restaurant food? Pans not 
clean enough? Or was the restaurant good but the interior 


monologue accompanying dinner stewed in unfriendly 
juices? He knows that all the statistics give him a shorter 
life expectancy practical thought than that of married 
men. Despite his naps, his self-indulgence, his cheerful ac- 
ceptance of the haphazard, he dies young. 

There is a law that a battery must be charged or it 
will be exhausted. It cannot generate from itself. The 
bachelor is a battery trying to charge itself. 

In nature there is another parallel. A certain primitive 
variety of one-celled creature reproduces by what is called 
"binary fission" by simply splitting in two. It requires 
no other, no mate. There appears to be nothing like sex 
needed. However, scientists notice under the microscope 
that a culture of these paramecia soon becomes "tired," 
"sluggish," and inactive, reproducing more and more 
slowly. Unless . . . and here is the curious detail. If the 
creature does not occasionally swim up to another like 
it, move alongside and exchange nuclei for a reason which 
has no normal mechanical explanation, it will finally slow 
down absolutely, disintegrate, die. But if it does perform 
this mysteriously friendly act, it will regain strength, move 
and feed with healthy vigor, and renew its process of re- 
production by binary fission with elegant enthusiasm. 

Which leads us back to the confirmed bachelor and 
a delicate matter. He is not a boy. He is not a child. It is 
no secret: one of his major problems is sex, and this fact 
fills a large part of his life and has obvious repercussions on 
the lives of all the people around him. If he is a confirmed 
bachelor, the genuine article, he has no guarantees in this 
area. Sex produces two kinds of trouble, and accordingly 
two kinds of bachelor. One bachelor is the shrewd Don 
Juan, attractive, capable, efficient, going off into the eve- 
ning of his life to do battle with little black address book 
in hand and perhaps a list of historical, used-up girls in a 
secret drawer in his heart. He gets what he wants; but the 
trouble is: he doesn't want -what he gets. He is often 


courted by women as in that boyish dream where the re- 
sponsibilities of manhood are taken over by clairvoyant 
girls and he finds himself fought for as a commodity. 
Especially in large cities, where there tend to be more girls 
than men, he has an easy time of it. Everything works 
in his favor, even statistics. One confirmed bachelor says, 
"When I want to move or furnish a new apartment for 
myself, I just pick a girl who knows my taste. I tell her 
what I want, give her as much money as I want to spend, 
and tell her go, I don't have time. She finds me what I 

Smug? Hard-hearted? 

Perhaps, but he can point out that the girl enjoys what 
she is doing. She wants to oblige; she wants to be needed, 
even if only as an unpaid interior decorator. Unmarried, 
without children, she is chafing to take hold. Far from 
feeling exploited, she is likely to harbor a tender indulgence 
for the man who trusts her so. She enjoys a brief glow 
of maternal and wifely joy. Later he can move her out of 
his life or inform her that she has never moved in. "I 
didn't make her do anything she didn't want to do," he 
says. "She could have said no. Elaine or Barbara would 
have been glad to do it if she hadn't." 

His friend pounds him on the shoulder. "You old 
manipulator! Playing with fire! Just you wait!" 

"Of course, she really didn't have to sew all those cur- 
tains by hand. . . ." 

And then there is the meeker, milder bachelor who, 
in his secret reverie, imagines himself a conqueror of dames, 
a hero in the lists of love, a brave commissioner of apart- 
ments to be decorated. He has girls who sew curtains for 
him in his dreams, but not during the long waking day. 
What about him? He is that man who sits on the auto- 
matic washer in the basement of his apartment house, 
waiting for his clothes to be done a rumble in the 
machine and a rumble in his heart and trying to figure 


out how to pass the evening after his TV dinner and his 
little stint of ironing. Later, wandering, he is one of the 
ghost ships that cruise the great cities, watching, discour- 
aged, gray. (If he has a sun lamp, he can cruise discouraged 
and tanned,) He may be lucky. Some equally saddened, 
equally hopeful girl may take pity. He may even find 
himself buying love in that most paltry way spending a 
few dollars for an imitation of feeling that no paramecium 
would envy. More likely, he takes a couple of drinks, numbs 
himself, sighs, hopes for better luck another time, and 
tumbles into bed. 

Are these two men so different the sleek Don Juan 
in quest of his ideal, the meek Don Mitty unable to find 
anything? No, they are blood brothers under the thick or 
thin skin; they are both deprived. Neither can attain a state 
of rest; neither has been able to settle for the possible. 
Both are forever looking, forever disappointed. The earth 
spins and they spin. They may buy themselves all sorts of 
pleasure hi-fi, foreign travel, sports cars, the paraphernalia 
of elegant consumption. They are likely to have time and 
money for these tilings one can live cheaper than two. 
They pamper themselves because they have no one else 
to love. In the first weeks after birth, infants think of the 
rest of the world as extensions of their own bodies; they 
don't understand that mother's breast and father's arms 
belong to separate, other persons. Like the infant, the 
bachelor is in primitive contact with the world of love, 
knowing only his craving, and so he remains infantile 
extending his solitary body with the balm of luxury and 
indulgence. He follows the rule of constant enticement, 
seduction, dissatisfaction, another girl, wandering to an- 
other town, another girl, another job, another ar, another 
girl. And again another. 

Because no one reassures him very deeply, his vanity is 
inflexible it is the savage vanity of the child. In his search 
for "true love," he is eternally deceived and mocked. After 


the thrill of easy conquest, he asks himself once more, 
"Was it really conquest? She was, after all, so much like 
the others." 

What does this do for the bachelor's masculine pride? 
It does not help it very much, any more than scratching an 
insect bite makes it stop itching. He itches more fiercely 
and knows no remedy. There are few things sadder than the 
success of the man who achieves all he craves, but then 
discovers his inmost thought: And now what? And now? 
And now? 

The bachelor enacts an immense joke in which the 
leg he pulls may be his own. He searches for the "true 
meaning" of love, whose true meaning is that it has no 
single true meaning. He may finally, like the male models 
in certain advertisements, seem to be held together by little 
more than his clothes and his vanity; and if they were to 
let go, he would tinkle to earth in a little heap of discrete 
parts. His arms enfold air, his mouth kisses glass. His present 
is without a future or a past: it is only a place to store his 
tubes, drops, and pills (he grows hypochondriacal with age) ; 
with mysterious hope he takes vitamin E, which is said to 
be for fertility. Unless he explodes, protests, cries No! no 
to all that! and thus joins the harried legions of newly- 
weds, forgetting his vitamins, and afterwards troubled in 
other ways. 

Most of the time we see only the glamour of the 
bachelor's freedom. We find him dressed, preened, rested, 
at his social best. He may simply age peacefully in our 
sight, growing gracefully into the permanent "extra man" 
for hostesses. Or he may finally be more fortunate than 
most men and find the girl of his dreams, the girl out of 
whose kisses he builds as a poet wrote "a ladder to the 
stars." Equipped with experience and age, patience and 
determination, he wins exactly what he wants. He is then 
much to be envied. The prince has wandered the enchanted 
forest and found his heart's perfect desire not merely 


fallen out of bed and awakened groping on the cold floor. 
What a lucky man! He lifts the wand and She speaks to 
him. . . . 

We see him during his best moments, on the verge 
of that discovery, with new girls, trying. 

Usually he does not find the girl of his dreams. That 
ladder to the stars lies folded in a closet somewhere. An- 
other evening has been spilled away with a swell kid whose 
name he will soon forget. 

We do not see him during those moments when he is 
alone in his apartment, wondering why. Alone. Back home 
alone to his cold bed, his vacant hopes, and his Dacron 
shirt drying in the bathroom. 


The Mystery of Personality in the Novel 

THE NOVELIST'S BOLDEST address to himself says: "I must 
master the most powerful sense of human life on earth, 
that of individual striving in a world clotted with both 
trouble and joy; I mean to commit myself to love and 
ambition and the frustrating of mortality/' 

The timorous wee clerk within replies: "Who, you?' 9 

"Yes," says the novelist, "and don't interrupt. I will 
reflect the movement of men in society in order to give an 
example of the glory of desire." 

The inner clerk, snuffling righteously before so much 
rhetoric, says: "Watch out! That's very difficult." 

And so it is. And so ensues a struggle. Generally the 
clerk wins. Often the dialogue is never quite argued through. 
Occasionally, a few times in each generation, the novelist 
wins against his other self. 

In the first case there is the sleek and pure pseudo- 
novelist, faking passion, faking life, the opportunist of 
problems, the Herman Wouks and Sloan Wilsons and 
Cameron Hawleys, with their deep affirmations for those 
who admire the editorials in Life. In the second case there 



is an uneasy, unfulfilled writer, often precious, satisfied with 
aspects and insights and partial comfort. And in the third 
case, when the novelist never abandons his deepest hopes, 
well, there is the possibility of a masterpiece. He gives us 
the stories for which we hunger, rich with people we love 
in mortal danger; his way of telling, his angle of vision, his 
perspective this is what we mean by style give us the 
judgment married to perception which defines both the 
whole man and the artist Sensitive and brave at the same 
time what a monster! he joins plot and perspective in a 
way that finally, without exhortation, suggests a vision of 
the good life. 

This is the critical maximum which no individual can 

But although it is more pleasant to talk of success, I 
would like first to name some of the ways by which novelists 
evade the possibilities of their art. They construct a man- 
nered style of arbitrary perspectives, with the intention that 
neither they nor their readers will be obliged to venture 
into the huge mystery of personality. The aim is simple: 
If you restrict your world, then the world is reduced in size 
and manageable. Hide what is difficult; trim what does not 
fit; make it neat. The great novelist is committed to a 
world without horizons, manifested first of all by a large 
and lyric sense for his heroes. The mediocre or tertiary 
writer limits and limits and limits, and so we have, some- 
times overlapping, the following contemporary types: 

The Forthright Brutes: Ernest Hemingway and imi- 
tators. They are bewitched boys, newly discovering verbs 
and nouns, physical sensation, zip-pow-wham of weather, 
drink, sex, war, bulls. They are too scared of what goes 
on inside an intelligence, inside a memory, inside a group 
of people to be able to face these matters except by smash- 
ing physical symbols like fists across the page. Sometimes 
they have sensitive nerves in their fists, but the nerve end- 


ings are stunned before making contact with the complex 
congeries of will and desire within. 

Hemingway's resolution of the necessary tension of 
conception in fiction can be examined in the light of the 
traditional philosophical concept of Universals and Par- 
ticulars. In one tradition "reality" is defined by abstract 
forms outside time, and the specific ever-changing events of 
our world are flickering shadows through fire on the wall 
of the cave, imperfect imitations of the ideal forms. In 
the other tradition, it is these particular events which are 
"real," and general statements are inaccurate, merely useful 
summaries of the only knowable reality the fact in the 
here and now. The terms Idealism and Materialism are 
approximate, somewhat misleading labels for these oppos- 
ing world views. 

The novel as a form is obviously empirical, working 
toward whatever large statements it has to offer about men 
in society, love, death, ambition, and so on, through specific 
instances of a man, a love, a death, an ambition, a specific 
society in a specific time and place. Not merely in general 
approach but in method also the novelist tends to be 
empirical. He does not say, "She was beautiful." He de- 
scribes a particular lovely creature with all her lovely 
attachments and gadgets, and then leaves us with one of 
the formal summaries which are part of the reader's active 
participation in a fiction: "Wow! Beautiful!" The novelist 
seeks what T. S. Eliot has called, in a famous phrase, the 
"objective correlative" of emotion. 

This objectifying in Hemingway goes very far. It is as 
if he were a too-literal student of some early physical scien- 
tist, overskeptical about what he can learn. The abstention 
from analysis, deduction, conjecture, the bold hunch 
these risks which are taken by the great scientist, too in 
favor of a minute noting of symptoms, has a certain ani- 
mal simplicity, grace, and power. But even the most grace- 
ful and powerful bull hangs from a very small head, which 


he uses mainly for battering, and little of what one bull 
learns needs to be passed on to another. He has opted for 
a pathetic lowering of the eyes, a doomed charge, a 
sword in the heart, and an occasional chance to gore before 
thumping in the dust with his life running out. El pobre 
torol His head admits not enough to understanding. 

A passion for objectifying emotion through physical 
sensation and act spins off to mania in the lesser work of 
Hemingway and in his fleas. The details become more and 
more ritual; the general emotion and sense which is sup- 
posed to emerge from the details has to be supplied entirely 
by the reader. In its own way, this is a highly "literary" 
manner, depending on knowledge of other stories, other 
stages in the life of the maestro, rather than on the work 
at hand itself: "It was hot He took a cigarette. It was very 
hot. He took a drink. He went upstairs. Christ, it was hot." 

This type of minimal statement in Hemingway goes 
very far toward forgetting that thoughts, fantasies, mem- 
ories, projects, the constant inner monologue and the 
unspoken conversations among people are also facts in the 
world, facts of being human. That we think defines our 
humanity. We are remembering, reasoning, political crea- 
tures, constantly responding to others and constantly 
willing ourselves into relation with others. Eliminate these 
actions in the guise of objective reporting and the writer 
eliminates the properly human, just as at the opposite ex- 
treme, in the precious and private writer, he eliminates 
social meaning by signifying nothing but his own obsession. 
The force of an obsession cannot be communicated; the 
obsessed person clings to his loneliness. Hemingway's 
compulsion toward objectivity links him with the obses- 
sively subjective writer: they both fail to give us sufficient 
criteria for judgment, sufficient material for a full partici- 
pation in the life of large human beings. They bind their 
projections of men in action to limited conceptions of the 
possibilities of being human. 


Obviously, however, Hemingway has found an ade- 
quate stance for expressing the sadness of the basically 
uncommunicative soul and for giving glory to its instants 
of lonely courage. When he depicts the isolated man, he 
knows whereof he speaks and the simplistic prose manner 
which he derives from Gertrude Stein serves him well. 
(He was a nice boy, a good pupil, she notes maliciously.) 
He describes a static condition, not an act of becoming. 
His "moments of truth" are plateaus. The consequence of 
revelation is a fortified stoic acceptance of mortality. He 
gives us a partial truth about the human condition. 

Why then does so much of his work make us feel like 
a rainy Sunday afternoon? What depresses us finally is 
this vision of human possibility one of violent compart- 
mentalization, strict limits, and no growth possible. On the 
occasions when he seeks to express a sense of people coming 
meaningfully together, he falls into an embarrassing purple 
rhetoric, as in the sleeping-bag scenes of For Whom the 
Bell Tolls or in the biography of the battered old love- 
hungry soldier in Across the River and into the Trees. This 
is not to derogate his great achievement, the one which 
is responsible for his popularity and his enduring projection 
of an aspect of life in the twentieth century. From begin- 
ning to end, he has spun out a continuous moral romance 
about the lonely man striving for dignity, grace, and com- 
passion within a world populated by real sharks and imag- 
inary tender boys and girls. 

The Cataloguers: John O'Hara is a good example. They 
observe. They make the discovery of the trivial it is most 
important; in fact, even the important is merely trivial; the 
trivial tells us all we need to know. They soothe us with 
sociology. They lay us to rest with details of tailoring and 
brand names. Their predominant cast of mind is a senti- 
mental passivity toward the dead weight of facts, which are 
seen quantitatively, and the contents of a closet are given 


the same loyal inventory as the two-headed contents of a 

The Outer-Essence Girls: Truman Capote and the 
chattering poets of decoration. A paragraph is a hammock 
in which words copulate prettily. Society is a meeting of 
birds on the wing. Put more formally, they do what bad 
poets do: They use words as if they were things and not 
signs representing acts and things. They drop the object 
of narrative prose, which is to make sense about human 
action, and replace it with a prettifying function. They are 
interior decorators for sentences. We can't all be William 
Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, or even Carson McCuI- 
lers, but each and every one of us can aspire to be Speed 

The Daintily Involved Observers of Aspects: This is 
The New Yorker fashion, although its best writers, such as 
John Cheever and Robert Coates, do something more. It is 
a variety of corporate prose less solemn-chuckly than the 
Time-Life product, but no more able to bear the full weight 
of experience. The New Yorker stylists are marvelously 
shy about the world. They blush before experience, but have 
learned graceful ways toward it, with shrewd notings of 
intonation and the vagaries of expression. Parts stand for 
wholes, although there seems to be a law of expression 
the smaller the part, the larger the hole. Finally summon- 
ing up their courage before fleeing, these writers offer a pox 
on life in the last paragraph. 

The Common-Style Fellas: Herman Wouk proudly 
claims to write "the common style/' This cottony diction, 
also worked with varying degrees of efficiency by Sloan 
Wilson and Cameron Hawley, is the great current success. 
These people are the just-plain-Bills of literature, producing 
an upper-middle-class soap opera for the readers of Luce 
magazines and subscribers to the Book-of-the-Month Club's 
service. They love what-is, whether it be the Navy, the 
suburb, or the corporation, and come forward to swear 


their allegiance without quaver or quibble. There may be 
some touch of nonsense in the process, for the flesh is 
weak, but they rinse and bleach it all for us in the end. 

It is the latter, the "common style," which enjoys the 
greatest success today. By the phrase "common style" is 
meant uninvolved, unambitious, "traditional" English 
diction, without excesses of feeling or rhetoric, suitable to 
describing the lives of people who want nothing to change, 
nothing to stop, just let's all pull together, hup-two-three, 
on to America's last frontier Adjustment. Those who write 
the common style show us how to avoid adventure, giving 
us just enough of it along the way to keep us titillated. It 
is a manner of withdrawal. They use the tricks of plot to 
replace action, the display of hysteria to justify emotions 
treated by Equanil, the questioning of moral assumptions 
in order to tell us that these questions can be avoided. The 
method consists in the ejaculatio praecox of drama. Clear 
out before we feel something! The result here too, of course, 
is a safe but jaded withdrawal from feeling, which is seen 
as dangerous. (Passion builds and renews only after we have 
submitted to it utterly.) 

The artisans of the common style often, like all good 
engineers, borrow techniques. Particularly they have mas- 
tered the cataloguing skill; occasionally they seem for para- 
graphs at a time almost as delicate as the New Yorker 
stylists; more rarely they imitate a Hemingway growl or a 
Capote fruitiness. But they turn these methods to their 
own ends, and go plodding on through their scenarios for 
adjustment. Flat-footed sentence dogs flat-footed sentence; 
limp paragraph folds into limp paragraph; the rhythm of 
phrase prepares us for the denouement, which is a cal- 
culated marriage, a comfortable job, a saving of the com- 

Form follows function. 

The function is to assure us that the lowest common 


denominator of personality and experience is all we need. 
The common-style artisans give us an ideal of comfortable 
conforming ways. The package is all wrapped up and 
ready to wear, in fact, as easy as old shoes. 

The mysterious longing of individuals to create and 
renew is excised with an almost surgical brutality and pre- 
cision although funnily enough, the American reader can 
teach these writers much about that of which the novelist 
is supposed to have special knowledge. American readers 
are drinkers and sometimes addicts; Americans love jazz 
and fast driving and secluded corners; with all the itch to 
conform, Americans are still trying to burst the bonds of 
isolation by various sorts of violent experiences, including 

Why then do so many readers find comfort in the dry 
apotheosis of Marjorie Morningstar's frigidity? How can 
Sloan Wilson get away with a billion copies of his pettish 
smugness in the job, the house, the rich aunt, the old 
wartime affair "talked out" between husband and wife? 
The great novelists have always given us, before anything 
else, before all morality and sociology, a sense of the rich- 
ness of possibility. Why do so many novelists fear the mys- 
tery of personality? 

Well, first of all, they always have. Besides, life is hard 
enough without going out looking for challenges. In an 
impoverished time, palliated by plenty but worried all the 
same, there is a generalized loss of the sense for creative 
activity. Nothing more than anxiety inhibits the power to 
do, to make, to invent, to admit. When your belly is con- 
stricted by worry, oatmeal goes down most comfortably. 
Novelists are human beings more than they are anything 
else. The mystery of personality is a mystery: isolation, 
incomprehension, brusque flashes of lightning, cold and hot, 
danger, danger, danger. To enter into a dark place involves 
the risk of coming out where you won't see things as they 
were. In novels as in life, we cannot eliminate emotion ut- 


erly and remain human; but we can replace deep involve- 
nents by passing safely from the stage of titillation to that 
}f being jaded without crossing through commitment. We 
ive this way, we write these books, we read them in order 
to say: I'm safe, I really cm, and I'm pleased about it! 
(We keep on renewing the experience because secretly we 
are not pleased.) Thus Sloan Wilson can declare that his 
novel expresses his sense for a world which has treated him 
"pretty well" wars, bombs, a third of a nation watching 
Ed Sullivan, all of it. Better forget about adventuring, 
he means to say; better accept a stereotyped image of desire; 
better be attentive to the media and take the profit in sub- 
sidiary rights. 

The novel at its best is a large perspective on life in 
society large because the hero's doings are important 
and because the novelist is deeply concerned with the 
careers of his people. Ulysses, for example, has difficulties 
of manner, but is not in its conception hermetic. Leopold 
Bloom is a representative, poignant, and troubling instance 
of city-dwelling man; his fretting and wandering in Dublin 
bring to us the challenge and limitations of our own in- 
telligence, ambition, and ability to love. James Joyce's per- 
sonal voice here is many-focused, as true personality always 
is, not the pale self-contemplation, blank and onanistic, 
which the seventeen-year-old thinks of as the pursuit of 
himself; nor is it the cruelly partial view of the writer fleeing 
his largest intelligence. It is a lyric reverie in the light of 
the wide world of society. 

What is that grit out of a unique individual which 
somehow provokes the novel of largest general significance? 
The nature of the writer's involvement with his material 
(which consists of all that he knows of life) suggests another 
clue. For complex psychological reasons, many novelists have 
been unavowed Platonists, philosophical idealists, possessed 
of a spectator theory of reality. That is, life has meaning 


as the shadows on Plato's cave have meaning as flickering 
glimpses through fire of something beyond life, something 
perfect and unchanging and finally unknowable by men. 
Their world is a system deduced from unknown premises. 
Unknown this paradox torments them. How can deduc- 
tions be made without defined terms? Therefore they look 
for moral abstractions, categories, faiths, anything that can 
place them outside the tormenting flux of time and sen- 
suality. Perhaps they become doctrinaire religionists or 
Marxists. They take their stand as viewers, as unwinders. 
What is the effect on their novels? Well, some of these 
writers are great ones, like Proust and Henry James, en- 
gaged in enterprises of passive integration in order to give 
some "symbolic" sense to the unruly factness of life. They 
shrink; still they cannot avoid rendering this dense, com- 
bative, time-ridden teeming. Despite their static position, 
Proust and James at their best project a moving image of 

But in anything less than a master, the type of self- 
absorption in moody fantasies is crippling. We may be 
hypnotized by it; we all have deep impulses to passivity 
before the fright of time; but an aspiration to perfection 
expressed as static clutching leads finally to paralysis. We 
stiffen; we are isolated. Platonism here parallels what the 
psychoanalysts call "fixation" a retreat to impossibly per- 
fect and unchanging gratifications or frustrations. We 
sneeze, we wheeze, our bodies protest 

Let us now set the empirical novelist against the deduc- 
tive one. "Love" is not an abstraction to be encompassed 
by definition: it is this Jack and Jane, that Bud and Joy 
look and see! The novelist is not studying shadows for some 
ultimate reality beyond earth; he accepts that the shadows 
themselves give him all that he can know; in fact, that they 
are enough; in fact, they are not shadows they are thick 
reality itself and a marvel to behold. 

There is the lesson of a Welsh phrase: "The rent that's 


due to love" you must pay and pay and pay, relentlessly 
giving yourself and making others give, too. The category 
"Love" does not exist; it can be merely rented, never owned; 
it is unpossessable in any final way. Like the medieval cathe- 
dral, like a child, like love, the great novel gives a sense of 
not yet completed life within whatever its perfections of 
design. Attempting to offer the sense of life, a novel is always 
in process. You can't step in the same story twice. When 
the writer sits down to his desk in the morning, there is 
nothing so safe and deadly as knowing exactly what comes 
next. If he is a real novelist by temper of imagination, but 
weakly hopes to have the security of a controlled symmetry, 
he will find that his characters shake their fists into the 
crooks of their elbows, set his schemes on their tails, ruth- 
lessly rewrite him. All that he is makes his people all that 
they are, but they are endowed with the kind of indepen- 
dence which defiant children have when they leave a good 
home. Fortified by their parents to make their own way, 
they are most loyal in being most free. 

The mystery of personality can be defined again and 
again, and then redefined: that's what mysteries are for. A 
jittery scientist has defined personality as "the index of in- 
efficiency." Machines are both efficient and free of caprice, 
he assures himself; therefore personality is a negative quan- 
tity with respect to intention, plan, goals; therefore the ideal 
of Science must be the elimination of personality in favor 
of socially governed ends. How are the ends to be deter- 
mined? By what criteria are they judged? By the efficient, 
impersonal needs of the smoothly running society. Needs? 
Needs? Why, for Plato's sake, pal, that's more circular (in 
logical terms) and hysterical (in psychological lingo) than 
any aesthetic rant 

Personality is prickly against definition. Let us return 
to the novel. In novels the mystery will make itself manifest 
as an individual, unsocialized perception, compassion, 


hatred, and love a congeries of unique relationships with 
unique creatures and events. Despite the difficulties of defi- 
nition, we know that the lonely, self-devouring ego is not 
personality and neither is the busy radar-flaunting opportun- 
ist: they are both flights from that mystery. They are willed, 
not willing; worked on, not working. They are not mysteri- 
ous, either: they are explainable products. They can be 
comic and pathetic, even typical of a society never heroic, 
tragic, or representative of aspiration (which is also a part 
of the twentieth century archetype) . 

However, the man moving in consciousness and con- 
templation of his will really conscious and watching, really 
moving and committed is the personality capable of defin- 
ing freedom for all of us. His is the will which, in type, 
reaches to the divine maximum, where God made something 
from nothing, the heavens and earth popping out of his pride 
in six days, not seven on the seventh day He gloated. At a 
slightly less monstrous level, Balzac created Pere Goriot 
in fifty-eight days, complete with Vautrin swarming over 
Rastignac's soul. Love, ambition, power under the sun of 
mortality! These are the issues; the great heroes of fiction 
meet their risks head-on, as we all must do, but too often 
we do it also faces down. 

The novelist must reach for the grown-up, risking, 
athletic personality, surely must in some way be this person, 
in order to find a hero who gives the sense of men at their 
best on earth: and catch him finally where his great gifts 
do not suffice: this is tragedy. American life is rich in sug- 
gestions of tragic themes: The man in politics is cracked by 
his ambition but really involved, not floating above pol- 
itics; the man in business fails against the fierce appetite of 
the devouring business world but really struggling and 
pretty fierce himself while not mistaking the business world 
for the whole of life; the lover is lost by love, as it is perhaps 
still possible to be, but by a love which is health and desire 
for a woman worth desiring and defeated by the natural 


strangeness of human beings. It would not be stretching 
the essential definition of tragedy to show the possibilities 
of individual triumph in all these struggles. 

Personality is a key, not a twitch. 

Without personality, manifested by what is called style, 
there is no significant touching. 

Personality in the novel leads to communion with 
others, a meaningful individual participation in the com- 
mon career. Otherwise, despite all brilliance, emotion is 
reduced to the self-loathing of a Celine or the self-aggran- 
dizement of the cripple perspectives mentioned earlier. The 
individual is more than the common style's stock-figure 
cartoon of Everyman in gray flannel. And of course the 
individual is more than the cracked-up romantic poet at 
three o'clock in the morning in the dark night of his soul. 

We should expect the fragmentation of self in the 
modern novel, just as we expect it in the man bound to a 
factory or office, within a social structure which cannot 
use the largest capacities of millions of individuals. Writers 
are responsive people: the complexities of being an Amer- 
ican in 1957 are enough to tempt all of us to turn to partial, 
limited, maybe soothing half-views. What a dangerous thing 
to be all present and awake before the front page of the 
daily newspaper! 

Can some novelists stand up against their confusion 
and fright? 

Yes, and even with courage, humor, and a will to do 
good work. Without naming specific writers, I suggest 
that the contemporary American novel is still tihe best place 
to look for instances of lives which seek to be whole 
and unafraid. Confidence and freedom of style are good 
signs of a writer's taking the chance. A style which at- 
tempts to use all a writer knows to tell all he can imagine 
involves a moral stance in favor of intelligence and liberty 
and risk-taking. With their varying defects and capacities, 


such writers have this in common: they are individuals, 
not products; they are making a way, not accepting a 
road; they do not flinch before the mystery of personality, 
or when they do, they give signs of knowing that there 
is something vital left out. Their failures are peculiarly 
ungracious: they intend otherwise. They will try again 
next time. 

At its best, the art of the novel tells us more than we 
can find out elsewhere about love and death. We com- 
mune together before a guiding image of the always un- 
fulfilled possibilities of life on earth. We are therefore in 
continual need of the dangerous, destructive moralist which 
the great novelist is. 


The Fair Apple of Progress 

1. "A Little Worm in the Fair Apple of Progress" 

HE SAID IT OF HIMSELF. He saw himself curled up, busily 
feeding on midwestern America, sheltered, destructive, 
loving his host, and needed by this age and place in order 
that they could get some sense of buoyancy and carry 
within them the richness of growth. He recognized his own 
childish self-absorption, great even for an artist, a breed 
accused by everyone of being childishly self-absorbed. 
Therefore he wrote about death with praise because "it 
will in any case give us escape from this disease of self/' 
Self-love is surely the beginning of the love of others, but 
it is only the beginning. Sherwood Anderson, an old child, 
suffered a merely erratic love of himself, therefore writhed 
with a tormented love of others. All his stories are bound 
up in this sense of the self's isolation, seen as glory and 
sickness, as sickness and glory. He is one of the purest, 
most intense poets of loneliness the loneliness of being 
an individual and of being buffeted in the current, the 
loneliness of isolation and that of being swallowed. One 



type represents the traditional retreat into the self for self- 
possession; the other, and its adversary at times, arises out 
of the angry resentment of a sensible man in an assembly- 
line civilization. Anderson's work is a manual of the wavs 


in which loneliness can be used. It was his nourishment 
and sometimes his poison. 

"I pour a dream over it ... I want to write beautifully, 
create beautifully, not outside but in this thing in which 
I am bom, in this place where, in the midst of ugly towns, 
cities, Fords, moving pictures, I have always lived, must 
always live." Yet he fled it always. He fled in order to find 
himself, then prayed to flee that disease of self, to become 
"beautiful and clear . . . plangent and radiant/ 7 He felt that 
he loved only the midwestern land and people, but was still 
fleeing when he died in the Panama Canal Zone. 

In his photographs he often showed his hair hanging 
over his eyes. The affectation means a great deal: first mere 
arty affectation (how he loved the "free spirits" of Green- 
wich Village and New Orleans!), then something feminine 
an4. wanting to be pretty and lovable for prettiness, and then 
of course the blurring of sight when you try to see through 
your own hair. What do you see? A world organized by 
your hair. "I must snap my finger at the world. . . . 
I have thought of everyone and everything." His sympathy 
and his oceanic feelings alternate with arrogant despair in 
which the arrogance can deceive no one. So desperately 
hurt he is, trying so hard to convince the "word-fellows" he 
wanted to admire him. But then his nostalgia gives us the 
mood he sought to force: ". . . old fellows in my home town 
speaking feelingly of an evening spent on the big, empty 
plains. It has taken the shrillness out of them. They had 
learned the trick of quiet. It affected their whole lives. It 
made them significant" 

We understand him at last! 

And then again the helpless bombast: "At my best, 
brother, I am like a great mother bird. . . ." He exuded 


through his pores the ferocious longing of a giant of lone- 
liness. The typical chords from his letters sound under the 
changing heroes of the stories: 

Youth not given a break youth licked before it starts. 
Filled with sadness that you weren't there. 

I have a lot I want to tell you if I can. . . . Anyway 
you know what I mean when we talked of a man 
working in the small, trying to save a little of the 
feeling of man for man. 

The romantic sentimentalist held up his mirror to look 
at his world, peered deeply, saw himself instead, of course; 
wrote painfully about what he saw; and it turned out that 
he was writing about the world after all, squeezing it by 
this palpitating midwestern honesty out of his grandiose 
sorrows and longings. Sometimes, anyway. He was not a 
pure man; he had a kind of farmer cunning, plus his groan- 
ing artmess and pretense, with which he hoped to convince 
the "word-fellows" and the pretty girls that he was a Poet 
although not a young one. What he really wanted was to 
be alone in that succession of gray furnished rooms he 
talked about so eloquently, making immortal the quiet 
noise and gentle terror of his childhood. "I try to believe 
in beauty and innocence in the midst of the most terrible 
clutter." But clutter too was the truth of his life; he fed 
on it; how else does a poet take the measure of his need 
for "beauty and innocence"? He must have remained an 
optimist, too, amidst all his disillusion. He married four 
times. To the end of his life he went on believing, and 

Anderson the writer arouses a poking curiosity about 
Anderson the man even in the most resolutely detached 
critic. The note of confession is always with us: Here I 
am, it's good that you know! he seems to be saying. 

His most formal narrative paragraphs are soaked in his 


own groping speech. He repeats, he cries out, he harangues, 
he pleads. All his work, the absymal failures and the suc- 
cesses which have helped to construct the vision Americans 
have of themselves, represents an innocent, factitious, im- 
provised, schemed reflection and elaboration of the elements 
of his own life. He turns the private into the public and then 
back into the private again. His mystery as a man remains 
despite his childish longing to reveal himself the mystery 
of a man who looks at a man with a beard and a scar 
in a conference room and sees, instead, a lover fleeing his 
girl's brothers through the fields. (They had knives and 
slashed could this be the same man? he asks himself.) 
Anderson confounds us with bombast and wit, tenderness 
and softheadedness, rant and exquisite delicacy. 

The best of his work is what matters. 

Let us now look more closely at what the worm made 
of his apple. 

2. "My Feet Are Cold and Wet" 

He loved to create, he loved his fantasy as the lonely 
boy does. In his best work, as in some of the stories of 
Winesburg, Ohio, the fantasy is most controlled, or if not 
exactly controlled, simplified, given a single lyrical line. 
The novels had trouble passing the test of the adult imag- 
ination, being wild proliferations of daydream. The simple 
stories of Kate Swift ("The Teacher") or Wing Biddle- 
baum ("Hands") join Sherwood Anderson with the reader's 
sense of wonder and despair at the pathetic in his own 
past childish hope of love, failed ambition, weakness and 
loneliness. As music can do, such stories liberate the fan- 
tasies of our secret lives. However, musicians will agree 
that music is for listening, not to be used as a stimulus 
for fantasy. We must attend to the song itself, not take 
advantage of it and make it the passive instrument of our 
dreaming. In the same way, the great writers hope to arouse 


and lead the reader's imagination toward a strong indi- 
vidual perspective on experience. Sherwood Anderson, how- 
ever, was not of that vividly individualistic company, despite 
his personal hobby of eccentric bohemianism. Rather, he 
was the dreamy, sad romantic within each of us, evoking 
with nostalgia and grief the bitter moments of recognition 
which have formed him formed all of us in our lonely 

James Joyce used the word epiphany, which he took 
from Catholic ritual, to name that moment of revelation 
when words and acts come together to manifest something 
new, familiar, timeless, the deep summation of meaning. 
The experience of epiphany is characteristic of great litera- 
ture, and the lyric tales of Anderson give this wonderful 
rapt coming-forth, time and time again. 

In "The Untold Lie/' for example, two men tenderly 
meet in order to talk about whether one, the younger, 
should marry the girl he has made pregnant The older 
man, unhappy in his own marriage, wants to see the young 
man's life free and charged with powerful action as his 
own has never been. But it is revealed to him revelation 
is almost always the climax of Anderson's stories that life 
without wife and children is impossible and that one man's 
sorrows cannot be used by him to prevent another man 
from choosing the same sorrows. It would be a lie to say 
that the life of conjugal sorrows is merely a life of conjugal 
sorrows: the story finally breathes the sadness, the beauty, 
the necessary risks of grown-up desire. "Whatever I told 
him would have been a lie," he decides. Each man has to 
make his own decisions and live out his chosen failures of 
ideal freedom. 

Many of Anderson's stories take for their realization 
objective circumstances which have a grandiose folkish 
quality, and many of both the most impressive and the 
most mawkish are concerned with an archetypical experi- 
ence of civilization: the test which, successfully passed, 


commands manhood. Such a story as "The Man Who 
Became a Woman" objectifies even in its title the boy's 
wondering and fearful dream. The end sought is manliness, 
that new clean and free life; failure is seen as a process 
of being made effeminate, or falling into old patterns of 
feeling and action. At his best in these stories, there is a 
physical joy in triumph which is fresh, clean, genial we 
think of Mark Twain, although a Twain without the 
robust humor; at his weak moments, we may also think of 
the sentimental sick Twain, and we find also the maunder- 
ing moping of a prettified Thomas Wolfe. 

The line between the subjects of Anderson's stories 
and Sherwood Anderson himself is barely drawn. His rela- 
tion as artist to his material, as shaper of his material, is 
as intense and personal as that of any modern writer. Unlike 
most writing dealing with unhappy and frustrated people, 
Anderson's work is absolutely authentic in the double 
sense not merely in communicating the feeling of these 
people as people, but also in giving us the conviction that 
the author shares both their bitter frustration and their 
evanescent occasional triumphs. By comparison with Sher- 
wood Anderson, Dostoevski is a monument of cool detach- 
ment. His identification is perfect, sometimes verging on 
the morbid: "Everyone in the world is Christ and they 
are all crucified." He has a primitive idealism, a spoiled 
romanticism like that of Rousseau: we could be all inno- 
cent and pure in our crafts if the machines of America and 
the fates that bring machines did not cripple us. 

This romantic idealism can be illustrated again by his 
treatment of another theme, marriage, in the story "Lone- 
liness," in which he writes of Enoch Robinson: "Two chil- 
dren were born to the woman he married," just as if they 
did not happen to Robinson at all, which is indeed the 
truth about the self-isolated personality he describes. "He 
dismissed the essence of things," Anderson can write, "and 
played with realities." Again the romantic Platonist sees 


a conflict between the deepest meaning and the fact of our 
lives, between what we do and what we "really" are. With 
a kind of purity and cunning, Anderson seems to thrive 
on this curiously boyish notion the limitations of which 
most of us quickly learn. We work and love because we 
know that there is no other way to be ourselves than in 
relation to the rest of the world. The kind man is the man 
who perform kind acts; the generous man is a man who 
behaves generously; we distrust the "essential" generosity 
which is sometimes claimed for the soul of a man who 
selfishly watches out only for himself. And yet we can be 
reminded with a strange force by Anderson's conviction in 
his boyish dream of isolated personality that there is some- 
thing totally private, untouchable, beyond appearance and 
action, in all of us. The observation is a familiar one, but 
the experience can be emotionally crucial. Cunningly 
Anderson makes us turn to ourselves again with some of 
his own purity. 

The last sentence of "Departure" says of George Wil- 
lard: "Winesburg had disappeared and his life there had 
become but a background on which to paint the dreams of 
his manhood." Abstracted people, playing out their time 
in the fragmentary society of Winesburg, these "heroes" 
are isolated, as Anderson himself was isolated, by art or 
unfulfilled love or religion by the unsurmounted challenge 
of finding the self within relationship with others. It was 
the deep trouble of Anderson's own life that he saw his 
self, which could be realized only by that monstrous thing, 
the Life of Art, as flourishing in opposition to decent con- 
nections with others in society. Marriage, work, friendship 
were beautiful things; but the gray series of furnished slum 
rooms, in which he wrote, enough rooms to fill a city, were 
his real home. Writing letters and brooding behind his 
locked door, he idealized love, he idealized friendship. He 
withdrew to the company of phantom creatures. He hoped 
to guard his integrity. He kept himself the sort of child- 


man he described with such comprehending sympathy in 
the character of Enoch Robinson. 

In many writers dealing with the grim facts of our 
lives, the personal sense of triumph at encompassing the 
material adds a note of confidence which is at variance with 
the story itself. Hemingway is a good example; his heroes 
go down to defeat, but Papa Hemingway the chronicler 
springs eternal. In Anderson this external note of confidence 
and pride in craft is lacking, except in some of the specious, 
overwilled novels which he wrote under political in- 
fluences. Generally he does not import his poetry into the 
work he allows only the poetry that is there nor does 
his independent life as a creator come to change the tone 
of these sad tales. The stories of Winesburg are unself- 
consciously committed to him as he is sworn true to them; 
the identification a variety of loyalty is torturingly com- 
plete; he is related to his material with a love that lacks 
esthetic detachment and often lacks the control which 
comes with that detachment They are practically unique 
in this among modern storytelling, and it is partially this 
that gives them their sometimes embarrassing, often tor- 
menting and unforgettable folk quality. Still they are not 
folk tales but, rather, pseudo folk tales. The romantic long- 
ing and grieving is not characteristic of the folk tale, despite 
the other elements, a direct matter-of-fact storytelling, 
colloquial American language (complicated by chivalry 
and the Bible, but at its best not "literary"), and the 
authority of Anderson's priestly devotion to his lives and 
people. Later, of course, the romantic judgment culminated 
in rebellion, sometimes in a kind of esthetic rant against 
the way things are. 

In 'The Strength of God/' the Reverend Curtis Hart- 
man (as in a parable, Heart-man) "wondered if the flame 
of the spirit really burned in him and dreamed of a day 
when a strong sweet current of power would come like a 
great wind into his voice and his soul and the people 


would tremble before the spirit of God made manifest in 
him. 'I am a poor stick and that will never really happen 
to me/ he mused dejectedly, and then a patient smile lit 
up his features. *Oh well, I suppose I'm doing well enough/ 
he added philosophically/* 

These, as The New Yorker would put it, are musings 
that never got mused and philosophic additions that never 
got philosophically added. They have a curious archaic 
directness that amounts to a kind of stylization. The un- 
analytic simplicity itself is a sophisticated manner. As the 
officer of the Pharisees said, "Never man spake like this 
man." It recalls to us the day of the storyteller who sug- 
gested the broad line of an action, and allowed us to give 
our imaginations to it. Nowadays we demand detail upon 
detail, and the phrase "I am a poor stick" would require 
a chapter of exposition in the hands of a typical contem- 
porary novelist. 

The pathos of the pious man's temptation by the flesh 
has a flavor beautifully evocative of adolescence. We no 
longer think of "carnal temptation" as Anderson did. But 
we remember our fears and guilts, and are reminded of 
ourselves as great literature always reminds us. Hartman's 
silent, secret battle with himself over Kate Swift is given 
part of its bite by her own story this pimply, passionate 
young schoolteacher who strikes beauty without knowing 
it and can find no one to speak to her. Her story is told 
with a brilliant delicacy that reflects Anderson's own 
reticence about women. Enoch Robinson, he says, "tried 
to have an affair with a woman of the town met on the 
sidewalk before his lodging house." To have an affair is 
his strange idiom for a pickup! (The boy got frightened, and 
ran away; the woman roared with laughter and picked up 
someone else.) 

Except for the poetic schoolteacher and a very few 
others, women are not women in Anderson's stories. There 
are the girls who suffer under the kind of sensitivity, passion, 


and lonely burning which was Anderson's own lot; and 
then there are the Women. For Anderson women possess 
holy power; they are earth-mothers, ectoplasmic spirits, 
sometimes succubi, rarely individual living creatures. In 
"Hands" they are not girls but "maidens/' where the word 
gives a quaint archaic charm to the creature who taunts 
poor, damned, lonely Wing Biddlebaum. The berry-picking 
"maidens" gambol while the boys are boisterous," and 
the hero flutters in his tormented realm between the sexes. 
In somewhere like Wing Biddlebaum's tormented 
realm, Sherwood Anderson also abode. American cities, as 
he wrote, are "noisy and terrible," and they fascinated him. 
He got much of the noise and terror into his writing about 
big cities, and the quiet noise and gentle terror of little 
towns into his stories about them. And among the fright 
of materialistic life, he continually rediscovered the minor 
beauties which made life possible for him the moment 
of love, of friendship, of self-realization. That they were 
but moments is not entirely the fault of Anderson's own 

3. "The Air of a Creator. 99 

Anderson is shrewd, sometimes just, and has earned 
the right to even the unjust judgments he makes of other 
writers. How earned them? He was constantly fighting 
through both the questions of craft and the deeper risks of 
imagination. He has won the right to make sweeping pro- 
nouncements on his peers. Of Sinclair Lewis, for example, 
he offers the most damning, most apt criticism: "Wanting 
to see beauty descend upon our lives like a rainstorm, he 
has become blind to the minor beauties our lives hold/' 
Sherwood Anderson wants the same thing, but holds to 
the good sense which a poet can still have in a difficult 
time: he clings to the minor beauties which give tenderness 
to his longing, a hope of something else to his despair. For 


this reason Anderson's critique of America finally bites 
more deeply than the novels of the ferocious sentimental 
satirist who was his contemporary. 

Of Henry James, Anderson wrote that he is a man who 
"never found anyone to love, who did not dare love. . . . 
Can it be that he is the novelist of the haters? Oh, the 
thing infinitely refined and carried far into the field of 
intellectuality, as skillful haters find out how to do." The 
Jamesian flight from direct fleshly feeling offended Ander- 
son. James objectified, stipulated, laid bare, and then 
suffused his entire yearning personality over all his work, 
so that Isabel Archer and Hyacinth Robinson are, really 
are Henry James, in all his hopeless longing, and yet spirit- 
ualized, that is, without body, epicene as James seems to 
have made himself in real life. George Santayana believed 
that by withholding love from a specific object it could be 
given "in general" to the whole world. This is a curiously 
commercial, economical notion the idea that there is a 
limited amount of love and that we have the choice of 
spending it on a few selfishly chosen objects or distributing 
it generally. "In general" we know that this is nonsense; our 
attachments to individuals are the models for our attach- 
ments to humanity as an ideal; but like many sorts of 
nonsense, it worked for Henry James to the extent that he 
really loved some spirit of Art which his "puppets," his 
"fables," as he called them, served. 

Is Anderson, with all his mid-American distrust of 
intellectualized love, really so far from Henry James? He 
is strikingly the perpetual adolescent in love with love 
rather than with a specific girl with changing flesh. One can 
see him dreaming after his dream-girl even as he ap- 
proached old age. His romantic chivalry, his lust for the 
proletariat, his fantastic correspondence in which the letters 
seem to be written to himself, no matter how touching 
their apparent candor and earnest reaching out is he 
perhaps the other side of the coin of his accusation against 


Henry James? To be the novelist of lovers who did not dare 
to hate this too is a limitation. He seems obliged to love 
others as a function of his own faulty self-love, and there- 
fore his love of others seems willed, therefore incomplete, 
and his moments of hatred seem a guilty self-indulgence. 
He presents an extreme case of the imperfections of an artist 
just because of the disparity between his intentions and his 
performance. He wanted to love, he wanted to sing of love. 
His failures help to make still more brilliant his achieve- 
ments in certain of the stories of Winesburg, in "The Egg/' 
and in scattered paragraphs, stories, and sections of novels. 

For the fault of bookish derivations for his feelings, 
Anderson substituted at his worst the fault of self-indul- 
gent derivation from gratifications and dreads never altered 
after boyhood. He carried his childhood like a hurt warm 
bird held to his middle-aged breast as he walked out of his 
factory into the life of art The primitive emotions of 
childhood are the raw material of all poetry. Sometimes the 
indulgence of them to the exclusion of the mature per- 
spectives of adult life prevents Anderson from equaling his 
aspiration and own best work. 

But this is a vain quibble. Who can do his best work 
always? What counts is the achievement, not the failures, 
however exemplary they may seem to a critic. "I have a 
lot I want to tell you if I can/' he wrote in a letter. "I am 
writing short stories." The faults of unevenness, egotism, 
lazy acceptance of ideals, and romantic self-glorification are 
as nothing against the realized works of art which force 
their way through. Sherwood Anderson "added to the con- 
fusion of men," as he said of the great financiers and 
industrialists, the Morgans, Goulds, Camegies, Vander- 
bilts, "by taking on the air of a creator." He has helped 
to create the image we have of ourselves as Americans. 
Curtis Hartman, George Willard, Enoch Robinson, all of 
the people of Winesburg, haunt us as do our neighbors, 
our friends, our own secret selves which we first met one 
springtime in childhood. 1957 

The New Upper-Middle Soap Opera 

(A tribute to Herman Wouk, Sloan Wilson, Cameron 
Hawley, and makers of fine face cream everywhere] 

A NEW POPULAR NOVEL is abroad in the land. Like man} 
a dull child, it has respectable parents: J. P. Marquand 
in this generation, William Dean Howells in an earlier one : 
and so on back. In its present best-selling incarnation, it 
has found a formula for success to equal Aristotle's stern 
definition of the nature of tragedy. No longer need a fic- 
tion lift its audience to a sense of participation in the life 
of a man of dignity, faced by responsibility, significant 
choice, and the flaws of his own humanity. Ambition and 
desire, the fear of passing away and the hunger for love, 
the use of intelligence toward a passionate growth these 
strong melodies have been reorchestrated by the fabricators 
of the new upper-middle soap opera, just as the music is 
eliminated from music on Tin Pan Alley (while preserving 
a boom of beat) and caffeine is eliminated from coffee b} 
the white-coated scientists (for the sake of those of us 
who have the jitters because we lack the ability to fulfil 
ambition and desire). 



As we are seen in the upper-middle soap opera, 
Americans no longer seek the girl, the adventure, the career, 
or the prize of self. Now we need to get the Belongingness. 
Groupy man is the New American. Faith, defined as trust 
in a given society, becomes the prime mover. Plot, a direc- 
tion of growth in time, a movement made possible by 
significant risks and commitments, gives way to plot de- 
fined as an anthology of cautionary anecdotes. The hero 
learns just how right it is to be right. Already secure in 
advance, a reader watches the protagonist join the company 
of men by the curious process of getting to be at one 
with the reader's own moral evasions. 

In Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, 
for example, Tom Rath confesses that "Ralph and a good 
deal of the rest of the world have seemed honest to ine 
ever since I became honest with myself. . . . I've become 
almost an optimist." The purging of pity and fear is re- 
placed by contented anticipation: "Just wait till you see 
Gregory Peck getting honest with himself in this one!" 

Was tragedy once an occasion for communion, a time 
for men to join their fellows in a sense of the power and 
glory of being human? Now a stupor of pleased submission 
after a term of grief, savantly drawn out follows the 
difficulties put upon this new hero in his world of real 
quirks and semi-real tribulations. We recognize the true 
enemies of success, since we have already conquered them 
ourselves: unfortunate accidents or temporary blindness. 
In this new shape of democracy, we are more than the 
equal of the heroes of our novels: we are the purged and 
cured toward whom they aspire. They want admittance. 

Who are the fashioners of the new soap opera? 

Herman Wouk, or Nobody Here But Us Career 
Sailors; Sloan Wilson, or Tell Your Wife the Truth, Then 
Wear Even Gray Flannel Lounging Pajamas; Cameron 
Hawley, or The Passion According to Saint Luce; and a 
host of less subtle apes of Marquand, or How Sad To Be 
Sad But How Distinguished. 


From these moralists we learn that Queeg wouldn't 
have been so paranoid if only that bunch of anarchists and 
landlubbers had tried to understand Navy tradition and 
been more sympathetic when he clacked those queegballs. 
Missus Gray Flannel will understand her hubby's straying, 
picnicking with the grateful, pneumatic Maria, and father- 
ing a child in Rome just give her a few pages for being 
agitated in the suburban garden. The Young Designer, 
who really has faith in the Company, will always win out 
over mean, money-loving accountants, partly because he 
is Close to the Men and partly because his wife marches by 
his side some of the time. In Executive Suite the moment 
of truth is a moment of sublime obfuscation: 

"As her hand touched the offered glass, Mary Walling 
understood, for one fleeting instant, the miracle of her 
husband's mind. Now it had happened to her! She knew 
without knowing why she knew. . . /' Even more stirring, 
she knows without knowing -what she knows. But she real- 
izes: "You'll never understand completely .... don't try 
.... you'll be happier if you don't .... he'll be happier, 
too." And then they go down "the dark corridor" together. 

Despite mechanical construction and brazen moral- 
izing, their thoughts about happiness separated by dot-dot- 
dot-dot from their thoughts about understanding, these 
novels are neither crude nor tasteless except in their impli- 
cations. They are written by intelligent men. There is an 
educated restraint about their language. They are sincere 
writers who mean what they say: It's so hard to conform, 
but do it, do it, do it. The simplicity of the message is re- 
quired by both their own lack of courage and that of the 
audience, but they are capable of spinning out complica- 
tions, alternatives, dilemmas, and even the ambiguity of 
interpretation which passes for artistic quality. This high- 
type, college-grad, sob-and-smug story, written in the cot- 
tony "common style," has the advantage of making stops 
and starts without ever introducing passion or will. Per- 


f ectly planned, destined for the screen, it can be hammered 
into shape with a whistle and a song in the heart, five or 
seven or nine pages a day, without ever the terrible inter- 
ruptions of doubt or drama. When it's time for a nap, the 
author can stop in the middle of a phrase, never breaking 
the easy flush and flow of his product: 

"He was going to make May his wife/* Willy Keith is 
relieved, also. May has just finished telling him that she 
has preserved her virginity from the importunities of an 
orchestra leader, she knows not why, some code or other 
maybe, just an old-fashioned girl who doesn't go for or- 
chestra leaders. Everyone thinks that the musician has 
worked his will on May, just because she travels from hotel 
to hotel with him, but surprise, surprise, he has gnashed his 
teeth in vain. Willy "did not know what manner of life 
they could find together, he did not know whether they 
would be happy, and he did not care now. He was going 
to make May his wife." In The Caine Mutiny, as elsewhere 
in the woukaday world, heroes do their duty and villains 
merely wish they could. 

The recent history of American literary vogues is an 
illuminating one. For a time, before World War II, there 
was the concern about a contracting economy and want 
in the midst of plenty which generated the proletarian 
novel. Then came the war and the war novel, in which 
the same quest for a better world met the rigors of regi- 
mentation and the horrors of organized destruction. In 
both of these periods, the writer reserved for himself the 
role of a moralist seeking solutions beyond immolation. 

But in this new novel, built within a world of terrible 
beatitudes, a world of contracting freedom and organized 
satisfactions, the attack is concentrated on the ideals of 
the earlier writers. The novel of revolt has given way to the 
obedience novel. It is cornball to be difficult, to grope for 
more than a few chapters, to seek frontiers and a better 
life. In the new unfreedom where all is plentiful but the 


chance to look and there is nearly full employment for 
everything but the mind and heart the only frontier to be 
reached is that of Adjustment. These new agonists make 
it to the recruiting office, or if they don't, their authors 
hold them up to our contempt. 

When Marjorie Morningstar attains the suburb, after 
passing through the crucible of a grotesque Broadway Bo- 
hemia, we are directed to cheer her luck for having found 
the values that the reader has already found. She is happily 
burned down. She is prematurely gray; presumably she has 
charcoal gray hair to go with her gray flannel heart. As 
Diderot says, commenting on the trouble we have in break- 
ing the impulse to love: "Preparations of lead, put to use 
prudently, may produce good effects, being proper to stifle 
the venereal appetite." The leaden career of Marjorie, her 
single transgression justified by frigidity on the occasion, 
hip-heavy now, a clubwoman, keeping a kosher kitchen, 
is given us as an exemplary one. 

What are the alternatives? The Life of Art (ingre- 
dients, in any order: Broadway, cynicism, the rive gauche, 
sex, hope, and James Joyce) vs. The Life of Life (suburb, 
bridge and canasta, a husband who is not very tall but very 

Probably the most respectable rationale for this new 
novel occurs in the work of David Riesman, who performed 
a brilliant metaphorical fix on the American character in 
The Lonely Crowd, and then proceeded, in the books that 
followed, to define the desirable "autonomous" personality 
as the one which is free because it accepts its society and 
chooses "responsibly" within the acceptable. Why persist 
in protest when we already have everything? Why look 
when we have found as much as we can consume? Why 
long for further goods when all the commodities needed for 


happiness are available to anyone whose credit is unsullied? 

And don't be anxiously other-directed, either, Mr. 
Riesman advises, and we hear a peal from the church 
tower prompting him: "Think positively, dong, dong." 

The autonomous personality also carries a radar which 
is closely tuned to others, but it makes significant and free 
choices anyway. They are not the compulsive, driven ones 
of the old inner-directed style; they are not the sheepish 
milling in herds of the other-directeds. Most readers of 
The Lonely Crowd felt a certain kinship with Riesman's 
inner-directed type, and thought that he intended it that 
way, despite his disavowals. Turns out that no. Further 
discussion laid down the line. The Inner-directed man is a 
violent, lonely, self-seeking person, tormented by aspiration, 
withered of the kitchen-warm feelings, and ignorant of the 
common pleasures. 

For Spinoza, human bondage consists in entrapment 
by the flesh and the material world; true freedom comes of 
a stoic withdrawal into these personal values which no 
earthly misfortune can tarnish. Riesman parodies this 
typically inner-directed solution to the problem of sustain- 
ing the individual spirit in troubled times. The autonomous 
man seeks to be a part of the leveled culture; it would 
be neurosis or treason to object. But the autonomous man 
uses his teevee in a brilliant, supple, imaginative and wide- 
ranging way. While mere other-directed man watches "I 
Love Lucy" because everyone is watching "I Love Lucy," 
the autonomous hero deliberates, investigates, considers, 
measures, and only then ventures a decision between Chan- 
nel 4 and Channel 7. And of course, since we expect that 
he is autonomous enough to be proud of being a man of 
our time, in the end he will watch "I Love Lucy," too. 

But there is always the subtle difference: He really 
-wanted to. He drafted himself. And the possibilities of free 
choice unroll with dizzying challenge during the autono- 


mous evening: beer or ginger ale, chocolate ice cream or 
strawberry, should I take my wife to bed or not. 

Novelists are not the original seducers, then. They are 
accompanied by Karen Horney in psychology, David Ries- 
man in sociology, and Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn 
in philosophy. All the current close squeezing to belong, 
to conform, to adjust, to sing praise to what-is in America 
provides the social climate of novels worthy of being 
serialized in Life. While the society reassures itself that all 
goes for the best, we are just busy little bees, working, 
leisuring, grouping, rearming, the private agony goes on. 
What we are and what the world seeks to make of us 
are continually at war. The adman knows it, the statesman 
knows it, even Sloan Wilson knows it, though he buzzes 
in the hive and says, "What a brave bee am II" Exactly as 
in radio soap opera, Sloan Wilson allows us our bit of 
trouble to show us to what extent life can be beautiful. 
Later. Soon. Just pucker up, button up, and face your duty. 

The sophisticates who commit the new soap opera 
know the people they describe, or at least know their man- 
ners, what they drink, how they joke, where they buy their 
clothes. These novelists have their own goals; they are 
relieved of the wrenching ambition of Balzac, Tolstoy, or 
Dostoevski to make life large. Their task is simply to 
point the local personnel toward a good life waiting to re- 
ceive them. You blindfold your people; you turn them 
around until they are dizzy; you have them stumble awhile; 
then since you know where the donkey is you let them 
peek under the bandage and pin on the tail. What passes 
for dramatic growth is the bumping against furniture which 
dislodges that handkerchief over the eyes. The reader is 
pleased that his hero has made out, but his pleasure is a 
smug one. How silly not to have used a finger to pry up 
the blindfold. 

Determined to be a contented cow, such a novelist 
is bound to give a chalky or overbland milk. There is 


nothing to work toward but a job of consolidation. Social 
protest is an anachronism the courts take care of injustice. 
The private risk and chance of trouble are mere neurosis 
find yourself an analyst. Significant choice is no longer 
possible to individuals. 

For these autonomous fabricators, everything can 
be reduced, encompassed, rectified. We will be teased from 
chapter to chapter by dread that maybe the Regular Navy 
breeds the wrong kind of paranoid; maybe the man in 
the gray flannel suit really has chosen a way of life which 
must leave him unfulfilled and only Maria, the Roman 
fantasy-wife, can make him happy in the sack; maybe great 
corporations are run for profit and not for the benefit of 
the worker and the customer. 

But all is creamy in the end. Those who rebel against 
Navy spirit are the selfish children of caprice, and an artist 
is the worst of all. Now that Tom Rath and his wife 
Understand, they can march on into Connecticut and the 
house they really want, budgeting a hundred dollars a 
month to help raise Tom's child in Rome and remembering 
now to try to Communicate while they're in bed. (Balzac 
said: Women, when they finally succeed in making a man 
into a sheep, always tell him that he is a lion with a will of 

And finally, brightest faith of all, it turns out that a 
furniture company is really a service and chooses for its 
next President the man who most desires to Serve. Like 
Mary Walling, the Company appreciates "the miracle of 
her husband's mind." 


Novels always reflect moral purpose. Every novel 
which takes any permanent hold differs both in goal and 
perspective from every other novel. We expect these dif- 
ferences, just as we expect each event in a life to change 


our view of that life. Novel-writing has always been a risky, 
athletic, and potentially destructive adventure, for just 
these reasons of uncertainty about what the work will tell 
us. "Pity this busy monster, manunkind, not/' 

These new novels also surprise us with their message. 
There is something new in the type, however not merely 
another perspective on the meaning of human life in 
society. There is a new grayness and dryness, a new limit 
to the will and intelligence of the novelists. They reduce 
experience. They shrink; they join with the other shrinkers; 
this frightened hiving replaces the challenge of individual 
worth. They put alum on their lips so that they cannot 
even kiss properly. 

A shadow of the athletic striving of the artist as moral- 
ist persists, but now the moral purpose becomes that of an 
exercise in submission. Faith is the famous bird flying in 
ever-decreasing concentric circles faith in Faith, not in 
some bright tradition; the patriotism is hoarse and defen- 
sive; groupiness replaces even the bugles of glorious chau- 
vinism. Our doubts are portrayed, sometimes vividly, in the 
books of Wouk, Wilson, and Hawley. They are answered 
at the end much in the way of the clever Italian journalists 
who smuggled honesty into their editorials, marshaling all 
the arguments against Mussolini, then concluding trium- 
phantly: "Oh yeah? That's what our enemies think." 

The journalists deceived only the censors. Not so with 
Sloan Wilson. He is a believer. After Tom Rath gives 
his wife the account of his infidelity, he is suddenly that 
two-headed modern fictional beast, the Honest Man. It can 
do anything. By the deus ex machina of this abstract, 
Platonic, "essential" honesty, he is saved for happy com- 
muting despite all the evidence of his experience. Can the 
heavenly purity of a gray flannel career be corrupted? No! 
Why not? Because: "That's what our enemies think." 

The commuting, business, institutionalized world 
apolitical, bored and anxious, with passion the great danger 


is questioned with some skill and tension. The affirma- 
tion of allegiance to it which follows is so much more 
reassuring: He knows, he knows. Job rebelling against 
abomination, raises his head and cries out, "How long, 
O Lord?" He needs the love of God, God's justice and 
tenderness, but on his own most demanding terms: for 
what he has been, is, and can be. The three friends say 
Shush! because Job has no right to challenge the almighty 
Source of the universe. "Hide yourself, give up/' they 
urge him, waving their' arms and shaking their beards: 
"There must be a reason, and if there isn't? Be nice." 

He will buy neither the comfort nor the false freedom 
of pretense. It is not that Job is an anarchic spoiled child. 
He struggles to take his place among God's children on the 
terms of his power and virtue as a man. There is belonging 
and belonging. The road by which we arrive at participa- 
tion within a group cannot be separated from the quality of 
this participation. Community is one thing; groupiness is 
another. Job stands on two feet like a man, with awareness 
of responsibility, with a capacity to love and respect, with a 
sense of the value of the individual others. The temporizers 
band together because they cannot travel alone, and put out 
their hands not to pray but to lean. Job lives in both pride 
and piety. The three friends make a world of their fear and 
cunning. "Why ask for truth or justice?" they say. "Take 
what you can get and pretend if s what you want After 
all, it's what we want." 

The great novelists have always been Jobs; the new 
novelists of tremulous adjustment are the three friends: 
"How long, O Lord, before his wife helps him to under- 
stand?" These writers already understand, however, and 
here in all its simplicity is their moral message: 

Virtue consists in a faithful submission, perhaps with 
understanding and sorrow, to the way things are. The way 
things are is the best way for things to be or at least 
there is nothing better which we can bear to imagine. If you 


are still troubled, be patient. Have faith. All blessings will 
come to you, and in decorator colors. The path of righteous- 
ness will be made more abundantly clear in the VistaVision 

As a television editor put it, ''No more downbeat 
dramas! We want happy stories about happy people with 
happy problems." The ideal type of the happy problem is 
represented by the issue facing that handsome couple in the 
automobile advertisement, all gowned and tuxedoed, smil- 
ing at each other and wondering what kind of an evening it 
will be, while the baby-sitter broods benevolently in the 
background: "Shall we take the Cadillac tonight?" 

Answer that question in 100,000 words, man. 



i. The American as Hipster 

IN GREENWICH VILLAGE a dreamy young beggar in a 
tattered Ivy League summer suit and a buttondown collar 
with both buttons missing turns on an uptown couple to 
ask, "Gimme a quarter for a Cadillac, hey?" 

In New Orleans a pretty little department store model 
approaches a man at a party, talces off her sweater, then 
her bra, and says, "Let's ball, dig" by which she means, 
Let's try a new far-out sound on the hi-fi. If he reaches 
out to touch anything but the tone arm, she will say, 
"You're through, frantic boy. You are sawed off." He dis- 
appears from future guest lists. 

In Denver a gaggle of young lads, not knowing what 
to do on a warm spring evening, steal a car each, drive 
them to the other side of town, park, steal a few more, 
drive back to the starting point, park, and then settle down 
to giggle about the confusion of the owners and the police. 
Silence. Return of boredom. Yawn. Finally one says softly, 
"Pops, why didn't we think of picking up on some chicks?" 

In St. Louis a girl and her friend, who used to be a 
drummer with a well-known quintet, both of them suffering 



withdrawal symptoms he has been working to support 
their habits by pimping for the girl beg an old pal to put 
them up with bed and fridge for a few days. While the 
friend is away at work, they telephone a friend in San 
Francisco, give him the bit, and after gassing awhile, sug- 
gest that they both just keep the connection and leave 
the telephones off the hook. Their friend won't get the bill 
until they are gone, far gone. Why do this to him? "He's 
square, so square, man." 

In Detroit a hi-fi engineer clucks sympathetically at 
the plight of a young couple in college. It's true love, but 
they have no place to go. The back seat of a car is for puppy 
love and sprained backs. OK, they can use his apartment. 
What they don't know is that there is a microphone con- 
cealed in the mattress. Their friend invites them to a 
party where he plays the tape before strangers. 

In San Francisco a group of young poets announces 
Religious Poetry Night, attracting a hall full of the plump, 
mournful ladies (purple hats, veils, heaving freckled 
bosoms) who adore such things. The first poet gets up to 
read. "C S 1" he shrieks at the audience. 

On State Street in Chicago a frozen-faced grifter stops 
a passer-by, pushing out his hand and murmuring, "What 
you say, pop? Give me a piece of skin/' 

"Tin sorry, I don't know you." 

"I don't know you either, man, but you like to have a 
party?" He slides off and away with a passive dreamy girlish 
look which has nothing sweet about it: it plots impossible 
meanness, anything to make him feel something. He 
doesn't know anybody, and says "man" to everybody be- 
cause he can't be bothered remembering names. 

In midtown Manhattan a writer, Jack Kerouac, pre- 
pares for his interview on TV. "We're beat, man," he says. 
"Beat means beatific, it means you get the beat, it means 
something. I invented it." For the television audience he 
announces, "We love everything, Billy Graham, the Big 


Ten, rock and roll, Zen, apple pie, Eisenhower we dig 
it all. We're in the vanguard of the new religion/' Jack 
Kerouac likes to write of Charlie Parker as God and himself 
as the Prophet. 

These are hipsters. 

Who is the hipster, what is it? The pure beast is as 
hard to track as the pure "student" or "midwesterner," but 
let us follow the spoor of history and symptoms. We will 
probably find that "pure hipster" is a phrase like "100% 
American" an unstable compound with an indefinite con- 

Hipsterism began in a complex effort of the Negro 
to escape his imposed role of happy-go-lucky animal A 
few highly self-conscious urban Negro men sought to imi- 
tate "white" diffidence, or coolness, or beatness. They 
developed a style which was both a criticism of their 
Bible-shouting and jazz-loving parents and a parody of the 
detached, uninvolved city ofays. They improvised on an 
unstated theme like bop and if you weren't with it, with 
it and for it, you heard nothing but jangle. The horn rims 
of the intellectual came to be known as bop glasses. They 
blew fine abstractions. The joke was a good one. 

Then their white friends took up the fashion, compli- 
cating the joke by parodying a parody of themselves. Cool 
music was the artistic expression of this hypertensive chill. 
However, in order to keep from dancing, keep from shout- 
ing, keep from feeling, a further help was needed and it 
was found in heroin. Some of the earlier hot musicians had 
used marijuana, many drank; these were springs toward 
jumping high in a group. There was a strong prejudice 
against the cats who went on junk, expressed in the super- 
stition that you might mainline a fatal bubble of air into 
your veins. Uh-uh, no baby, they said: and in practice they 
found that the junkie blew lousy drum or horn, no matter 
what he thought he was blowing. 

The new generation preferred supercelestial private 


music, however. Heroin dissolves the group and each man 
flies alone all the way to Barbados. And without flapping 
his arms. 

Many other young Americans felt beat, wanted to keep 
cool, and so into the arms of the first hipster society, 
that still unravished bride of bop quietness, ran three angry 
herds: (1) Main-street thugs with their sideburns, their 
cycles, and their jeans; (2) college kids and a few literary 
chappies, finding in the addict's cool stance an expression 
of the frustration of fluid-drive lives in which the juicebox 
had gone dry; and (3) Upper Bohemia, tired of Van Gogh, 
Italian movies, charades, and sex, and so ready to try anti- 
art, anti-sex, anti-frantic nonmovement. These latter com- 
prise the Madison Avenue hippies, models who strip merely 
to express their hatred of fashion magazines, admen and 
lawyers who marry call girls, a host of Ivy League symbol- 
manipulators, bloated with money and debt, pink with 
General Electric sun tans and shame, who express their 
benzedrine blues by wigging at night near a blasting rig. 
"Well, you know . . . Albert Schweitzer doesn't make me 
climb the wall. ... Is it true he eloped with Kim Novak?" 

"Everyone says/' remarks the pretty girl who seeks to 
please, "that I'm exceptionally fastidious, but would you 
like me to do something nasty for you? I really wouldn't 
mind. My name is Grape-Nuts, what's yours?" 

Let us now move in closer to the hipster's harried 
heart. When the hipster makes it with a girl, he avoids 
admitting that he likes her. He keeps cool. He asks her 
to do the work, and his ambition is to think about nothing, 
zero, strictly from nadaville, while she plays bouncy-bouncy 
on him. When the hipster makes it with boys, it's not be- 
cause he's a homosexual and cares for it it's for money, 
a ride home, pass the time of night while waiting for the 
band to come back on. When the hipster steals a car, he 
doesn't keep it or sell it; he hides it where the squares 
will have trouble finding it, and writes "Mort a Louis A" 


in soap on the windshield. When the hipster digs music, 
Proust, or religion, it's to talk over, it's to carry around 
in his jeans, it's to hit his buddies with; it makes no sense 
or feeling, and the weirder it is, the cooler the kick. 

In other words, the hipster is a spectacular instance 
of the flight from emotion. He is like a sick refrigerator, 
laboring with tremendous violence, noise and heat, and 
all for one purpose to keep cool. This refrigerator is pow- 
ered by crime without economic need; an editor to one of 
the hipster writers complains, "Jeez, when I slept on park 
benches and boosted from the A and P, I did it because I 
had to. My kick was that I needed sleep and food. I didn't 
do it to tell people about." The refrigerator is powered by 
sex without passion; the sole passion is for the murder of 
feeling, the extinguishing of the jitters. The refrigerator is 
powered by religion without faith; the hipster teases him- 
self toward the black battiness of oblivion, and all the vital 
refreshment which religion has given the mystics of the 
past is a distraction from the lovely stupor he craves. Unlike 
Onan, who spilled his seed upon the ground, the hipster 
spills his brains and calls it piety. He also wears music, art, 
and religion as a kind of badge for identification. Instead 
of the secret handshake which got him into Uncle Don's 
Boys' Club or the Orphan Annie Secret Society, he now 
says, "You dig the Bird? Proust? Zen?" 

"I'm hip." says his friend. This phrase means: No need 
to talk. No more discussion. I'm with you. I got you. Cool. 
In. Bye-bye. 

The language of hipsterism is a means toward non- 
communication, a signal for silence. The truest lingo is 
narcotics, because this more than anything gives Little Boy 
Beat what he wants release from imagination and the 
body an illusion not of omnipotence, as we are sometimes 
told, but of a timeless browsing in eternity. In other words, 
a cool simulation of death. The sentimental and sensational 
talk about drugs producing sex maniacs is nonsense. The 


man on a habit needs nothing more than his fix. Quiet, 
quiet. He may perform terrible violence to get the drug, but 
not sex: pleasure has nothing to do with the dreamy high 
of heroin. The pale soft face of the addict, with his 
smudged passive eyes and his drooping mouth, is almost 
ladylike in its sweetness. It has no fight or love in it. 

Heroin enables the hipster to stand guard over his soul, 
dreaming of cool nothing, beautiful beat nothing, while 
his feet go ratatat and he strokes a switchblade, a hand, or 
a copy of Swann's Way. Needless to say, the proto- and 
quasi-hipsters do not usually go all the way to the perfection 
of heroin. 

The current fad for the hipster his language, man- 
ners and attitudes indicates that he is, as that fearful 
phrase goes, "no isolated phenomenon/' Jack Kerouac pro- 
claimed, "Even the Ivy League is going hip." Emerging out 
of bop, narcotics, and the subtle rebellion of the Negro 
against the charge of being "happy, excitable, emotional," 
the hipster takes one of his chief public models from that 
most authentic American source, the movies. He ignores 
the injunction of the pious thirteenth-century moralist, 
John of Garland, who wrote: "Be not a fornicator, O 
Student! Stand and sit upright, do not scratch thyself!" 
The Stanislavsky hipsters scratch as if their soul's unease 
were actually juicy fleas, slouch as if leaning to catch 
Marlon's word from earth or Jimmy's from vaulted heaven. 
The movie shadow of Dean or the Brando of The Wild 
One is a part of the image of the hipster, whether he be 
the smooth pink Ivy League metahipster, staring at himself 
in the mirror of one of those shops where they apparently 
do operations to remove the bones from men's shoulders, 
or the long-chinned hairy protohipster with a girl jiggling 
on the behind seat of his Harley-Davidson "74." In many 
theaters where The Wild One played, there was a lineup 
afterwards in the men's room, the cyclists in their nail- 
studded black jackets scowling with adoration into the 


mirror as they rehearsed their public roles. Each man was 
Brando, distant and violent. Each man was Marlon, cool 
and beat. They stood in a row without shame, almost with- 
out vanity (so pure it was), like neophytes for sacrifice in 
their penitential leather, silver trim, sideburns, and duckass 
haircuts. Scratch not, O Hipster! 

And so the hipster's lines of communication spread 
from a four-bit movie-house in a small town of the Mid- 
west to the chic saloons of New York and the Coast He 
reminds us of the Teddy Boys of England, the breaking- 
loose wild brats of defeated Japan, the existentialist zazous 
of Paris, tootling the petrified dixie they learned from old 
Beiderbecke records. His apologists, particularly the literary 
hipsters of San Francisco and New York are fond of 
reaching back into history to invoke the criminal gods of 
French poetry Rimbaud, who mysteriously vanished into 
Africa, Villon, who ended up dancing on the gallows, 
Genet, who is now a poet and playwright hero of Paris after 
a career of thievery, blackmail, and male prostitution. The 
very important difference between the American literary 
hipster and his foreign models is that the great artist- 
criminals were true outcasts from society: they did not 
pick themselves up by the seat of their own pants and toss 
themselves out They were driven by class differences and 
economic pressure. A few of the Americans have performed 
spectacularly mostly in the loony bin; one even played 
William Tell with his wife and blew her head off but 
these are individual troubles, not the product of any vast 
and windy guilt of society. Who ain't got personal troubles? 
I dig yours, man; but I got mine too. 

In any case, the 1958 hipster is not the bold medieval 
troubadour prince of song and con, nor the romantic ad- 
venturer poet of later times, nor the angry driven Depres- 
sion stiff: he is the true rebel without a cause. No, of 
course, he has a cause his charred self, but a self without 
connection or need. He is a reticent boyo with a yen for 


thuggery, a reluctant visitor to the affairs of men, a faintly 
girlish loiterer near the scenes of violence. If he can't 
be a big boom-boom hero in a war, like Gary Cooper, at 
least he can take the muffler off his rod, like Marlon. 
Mainly he is afflicted with the great triumvirate disease of 
the American male Passivity, Anxiety, Boredom. Indi- 
vidualists without individuality, a sleepy brawl of knowing 
nonthinkers, the lonely crowd at its grumbling loneliest, 
the hipsters fall naturally to the absolute submission of a 
marriage to heroin. Like the submission to boredom in 
television and all the other substitutes for personal creative- 
ness in American life, narcotics involve an abdication of 
good sense by men deprived of the will to make their own 

"I dig everything, man." 

"What do you want to do now?" 

"I don't know, man. Get some kicks somehow." 

If the description of the hipster as "passive" strikes 
you as harsh, look up the dictionary definition of the word: 
"Med. Pertaining to certain morbid conditions character- 
ized by deficient vitality and reaction." 

The word hipster came in with bop, which is a way 
of keeping cool musically, at the same time that narcotics 
addiction burgeoned a way of keeping cool sexually. The 
drug-taking hipster is not a sexual anarchist; he is a sexual 
zero, and heroin is his mama, papa, and someone in bed. 
(The pusher in A Hatful of Rain is called "Mother.") 
Not every quasi-hipster mainlines into the tattoo on his arm, 
of course, but the style of life is set by those who do. The 
coolest boys call each other "daddy-o," as if their passivity 
extends to thinking of every man as a potential guardian 
father. Of course, the traveling musician also cannot be 
bothered to remember names, so everyone is "man," "pops," 
"daddy-o." They worship the purple fantasy of torn-tee- 
shirted masculinity created by Tennessee Williams, Wil- 
liam Inge, and others who have invented a new theatrical 


type the male impersonator. Adorably brutal, stripped of 
the prime attributes of manliness intelligence, purpose, 
control they are the curvaceous Mae Wests of popular 
melodrama. Having died, James Dean and Charlie Parker 
are defined as immortal. Living and growing up a bit, Mar- 
lon Brando is a traitor to this myth of saintly suicide by 
sports car or heroin. They might have forgiven his giving 
up the bongos, but his receding hairline is a disgrace to the 
cause. The strong silent hero must also be weak and pretty. 

One of the curious bypaths of hipsterism leads to their 
far-out religious camp. Jack Kerouac says, 'We're in the 
vanguard of the new religion," which is a little like the 
monk in the story who claimed that he was the world 
champion for humility. They picked up on St. John of the 
Cross for a time, Catholic ritual, St. Francis of Assisi (they 
were St. Frantics); then they moved on toward Byzantine, 
Greek, and Orthodox fantasies, with ikons and incense; they 
made the Dostoevski scene. In recent years some have 
taken to calling themselves Zen Hipsters, and Zen Bud- 
dhism has spread like the Asian flu, so that now you can 
open your fortune cookie in one of the real cool Chinese 
restaurants of San Francisco and find a slip of paper with 
the straight poop: "Dig that crazy Zen sukiyaki. Only a 
square eats Chinese food." Promiscuity in religion stands, 
like heroin, for despair, a feverish embracing of despair, a 
passive sinking into irrationality. Zen and other religions 
surely have their beauties, but the hipster dives through 
them like a sideshow acrobat through a paper hoop into 
the same old icy water of self-distrust below. The religious 
activities of the hipsters cure their unease in the world the 
way dancing cheek to cheek cures halitosis. 

No wonder tihe hipster says, "Nada, Fm beat I'm 
right in there, see I'm the most religious, the most humble 
I'm swinging, man." He stammers because something 
is missing, a vital part, the central works. His soul, sense 
of meaning, individual dignity (call it how you like) has 


been excised as unnecessary by a civilization very often 
producing without good purpose. He feels that love is not 
love, work is not work, even protest is not protest any 
more. On the consumer's assembly line, in the leisure-time 
sweatshop, he pieceworks that worst of all products of 
anxiety boredom. This is the response of retreat from the 
cold inanities of his time payments, luxurious discomfort, 
dread of the successful future. Boredom is a corollary to 
anxiety. As the middle-class man now buys a brick for the 
new church (Does God need that basement bowling 
alley?), so the hipster tries to find himself in intuitions of 
meaning through the Anchor edition of Zen tales, or through 
some other fashionable interior decoration. Naturally he 
stammers, "Cool, mon, real cool/' He wants to stop mov- 
ing, jittering, flittering. He displays himself as exemplary 
because he has no wife, children, responsibilities, politics, 
work. The middle-class man both has and does not have 
these things. Who can call moving bits of paper a job? 
Most Americans are paper-movers. How is love of wife and 
children more than a social habit when a man feels qua 
man (not as husband or father) that he has no authority 
except in his own home? 

When a man's house is his only castle, then he has 
no castle. 

Both smugness and ambition are characteristics of 
human beings, not of animals, though rats and rabbits can 
be taught despair by repeated electric shocks. Faced by the 
threat of absolute manipulation, the hipster mobilizes 
himself for a last stand and hops about the cage, twitch- 
ing his tail, bumping the charged wires. 

The clich^ which tells us that Americans love Things, 
Possessions, does not go far enough. Americans also de- 
mand experiences of power, one way or the other, in person 
or out of the picture tube. This seems normal enough to 
be a condition of life, but not when the starved mirage of 
power crowds out the quietness which gives experience 
meaning and organizes a man to face his private issues of 


working, loving, having children, dying. Certain experiences 
lead away from rather than toward, and faster and faster 
we go: the experience does not help; we try wilder experi- 
ence; this does not help; still more wild, wilder. The extreme 
of a flatulent submission to the mass media eventually 
stops all experience in its tracks, in the guise of giving 
perfect experiences which make it possible to carry on. 
Television as a medium of entertainment is not the villain 
any more than good whiskey is a villain; they can both be 
good friends. It is the bleared submission by depleted souls 
which destroys. Relaxation is one thing sharing experience 
vicariously is a great experience to which the imagination 
entitles us. To be stunned is another matter entirely. De- 
spair by electronic shock. 

Sensitive to all this, the hipster has decided to quit 
resign have no more of it. Instead of being part of a 
mass audience before the picture tubes, he becomes an 
audience of one before the hypo. He gives up on the issue 
of being human in society. He decides that the problem 
does not exist for him. He disaffiliates. The man who cares 
is now derided for being "frantic." 

But of course the hipster is still a part of a bewildered 
America in which Tab Hunter confides to an interviewer 
that he can only sleep with his Teddy bear in bed with him. 
The hipster is victim of the most hopeless condition of 
slavery the slave who does not know that he is a slave 
and is proud of his slavery, calling it "freedom." Incurable? 
Nearly. The posture of negation and passivity thinks it is 
religion and rebellion; instead it is a mob phenomenon. 
These nihilists sail dreamy down the Nile of throughway 
America, spending many a sleepless day figuring out some- 
thing real cool to do at night, and end up trying to con- 
vince themselves, as Jack Kerouac does, that Charlie Parker 
is God. Kerouac's birdmen in his novel, On the Road, 
search for coolness within their beatness, hipness within 
their jeans-and-dirty-hair dream of quickies with marvelous 
girls (who also wear dirty hair and jeans). Occasionally, as 


in the Kerouac variety of superfrantic subhipster, sex takes 
the place of dope. This is a kind of sex which also takes 
the place of sex. The way some men gloat over possessions, 
he keeps score of his hero's erotic blitzes, forgetting that 
if you are the trooper who uses sex as a weapon every 
notch in a weapon weakens the weapon. 

The hipster is a street-corner, bar, and partying phe- 
nomenon, a creature of mobs. One Rimbaud may be a 
genius; a crowd of them is a fad. An earlier fad for psycho- 
analysis has this in favor of it: Freud believed in the prime 
value of emotions, but in a necessary control by the in- 
telligence. In other words, he valued society despite the 
discontents of civilization. The hipster gives up society, 
gives up intelligence, and thinks he is doing this in favor 
of the emotions; but he has already, without making a 
decision about them, let his feelings seep away through a 
leaky personality. What is left is a spasmodic jerk, though 
some of the individual spokesmen also have vivacious 
talent No wonder that the madhouse is seen as the refuge 
of their *T)est minds/' Catatonia, here we come. 

These shrill moonbirds turn out to be rigid earth satel- 
lites, rocketed by bureaucrats beyond their ken into the air 
of reality, where they circle in a pattern determined without 
choice, give out a diminishing signal, draw to earth and 
burn, crumble, vanish. 

When Yeats looked into the future to find a terrible 
savior, an evolution up from animality into something 
strange and wonderful: 

What rough beast, its hour come round at last, 
Slouches toward Bethelem to be born? 

he did not mean James Dean. Perhaps, as they claim, 
the tunneling hipster's avoidance of feeling can lead to 
a new honesty of emotion. Perhaps a groundhog might 
some day learn to fly, but man O man, that will be one 
strange bird. 1958 

x. Hip, Cool, Beat, and Frantic 

"WHOEE, I told my soul." This urgent message from Jack 
Kerouac to his soul contains most of the sense which 
emerges from his frantic tirade in the form of a novel, On 
the Road, and it is his ability to make such stuff hip, 
cool, beat, and frantic, all at once, which has earned him 
a title more valued nowadays than that of "novelist": He 
is a Spokesman. 

For what this time? Kerouac has appointed himself 
prose celebrant to a pack of unleashed zazous who like to 
describe themselves as Zen Hipsters poets, pushers and 
panhandlers, musicians, male hustlers, and a few marginal 
esthetes seeking new marginal distinctions. They have a 
center in San Francisco, another in Greenwich Village, and 
claim outposts in Tangiers, on merchant vessels, in Chicago, 
a fragment among the fragments in New Orleans, a fringe 
of the fringe in Mexico City. Despite all wandering, how- 
ever, their loneliness for the herd sends them eagerly 
trumpeting back into each other's arms after brief periods 
of saying whoee to their souls among the outianders. At 
least two of them happen to be talented Allen Ginsberg, 

01 - 


a poet of shock and wild wit, whose blathering Howl really 
does contain some of the liveliest epithets in contemporary 
verse; and Jack Kerouac, whose mammoth journal has been 
edited into the form of a novel by The Viking Press. One 
of the heroes of On the Road, of course, is Allen Ginsberg 
(under the name of Carlo Marx) , just as one of the heroes 
of Howl is Jack Kerouac (under the name of Jack Kerouac) . 

Who are these hipsters, what are they? A distinction 
must be made between the authentic beast a phenomenon 
of frigidity and shock and its literary fleas, who are mainly 
Ivy League desperadoes, romantic dreamers fondly recalling 
hypes and heists that other chaps hyped or heisted. In the 
background of Kerouac's book glimmer the cultural signs 
that the people he is spokesmaning for are really here: 
their photographs in Harper's Bazaar and Mademoiselle; 
two issues of the Evergreen Review and New Directions 16 
largely devoted to their work; a publishing venture in San 
Francisco; articles on them in The New "York Times, The 
Nation, the New Republic, New World Writing, Dissent, 
the Chicago Review, and elsewhere; a few books, including 
Clellon Holmes's Go/, which belongs to an earlier period 
(1952), although it describes many of the people impli- 
cated in On the Road, (Historical periods rush upon us 
like men's fashions: "Bop was somewhere between its 
Charlie Parker Ornithology period and another period 
which began with Miles Davis. . . .") Mr. Ginsberg and 
Mr. Gregory Corso recently teamed up to make an agitprop 
tour of New York which shook Madison Avenue real bad, 
though they have yet to appear on behalf of Schweppes 
(with beards), Hathaway (eyepatch), Marlboro (tattooed 
hands), or in poems by e. e. cummings (they too are free 
spirits, FREE, they told him). 

On the Road carries the ensign of the hipster with 
considerable humor and vitality, much awe, and a little of 
the literary hipster's prevalent social disease, the faked-up 
pretension that these are underground intellects who know 


all about Zen Buddhism, St. John of the Cross, Proust, and 
good bad old Charlie Parker, and could tell us if they only 
cared to. The awe breaks to happy moments of lucidity 
which are those of a real writer. Kerouac then sees the 
hipster, agape and bedazzled, mumbling about the world- 
historical significance of bop but only mumbling. What 
he tells, he tries to tell true enough according to his 
lights. At times he almost seems to understand that Charlie 
Parker blew fine horn, but was not God. 

However, there is a structural flaw in this contem- 
porary revival of the literary-criminal or ecstatic-delinquent 
underground which makes Jack Kerouac's book a proof of 
illness rather than a creation of art, a novel. In the first 
place, Villon, Rimbaud, and Jean Genet really lived by 
their criminal passivity and wits. They showed their rumps 
to society because they were caught from behind. These 
Americans, however, are literary in their coolness, hipness, 
beatness, and they are unauthentic exactly to the degree 
that they are literary. The hipster-writer is a perennial per- 
verse bar mitzvah boy, proudly announcing: "Today I am 
a madman. Now give me the fountain pen." The frozen 
thugs gathered west of Sheridan Square or in the hopped- 
up cars do not bother with talk. That's why they say 
"man" to everyone they can't remember anybody's name. 
But Ginsberg and Kerouac are frantic. They care too much, 
and they care aloud. "I'm hungry, I'm starving, let's eat 
right now!" That they care mostly for themselves is a sign 
of adolescence, but at least they care for something, and 
it's a beginning. The hipster is past caring. He is the crim- 
inal with no motivation in hunger, the delinquent with no 
zest, the gang follower with no love of the gang; i.e., the 
worker without ambition or pleasure in work, the youngster 
with undescended passions, the organization man with 
sloanwilsonian gregory-peckerism in his cold, cold heart. 
He has entered a deep cavern where desire and art are 


unbiown; swimming blind, scared, and silent, he eats what- 
ever is alive a symptom of trouble, but hardly feeling it 
any more. 

Still, hipsterism has touched a number of writers, 
since the extremes always attract and the hipster fish is the 
coldest and clammiest and perhaps the deadliest creature 
of the deep seas in which we all now swim. "Nothing 
human is alien to me." Goethe, among others, said it The 
hipster's pressured soul, squirting bile, excites the artist 
who, out of pity or morbidity, either saintly or slumming, 
dives into the world of the ice-blooded. Yes, something 
has made them that way. There are connections. They 
have carried their rebellion from society past the end: 
excising from their innards the cant of a mass culture, these 
fierce surgeons have also badly cut up their humanity. They 
are cool. Now they blow nothing but the miseries. 

Bernard Wolfe has learned to keep a heavy leg out- 
side, in the wide world of politics and philosophy, and 
therefore to make art of the hipsters' death-in-life; Norman 
Mailer has gone to school to them, and may yet graduate, 
as he has restlessly graduated from other ideologies. The 
poet Kenneth Rexroth is their youngish elder statesman, 
whose collected essays in their defense might be entitled 
Zen Strikes Back; Lawrence Lipton contributes a hairy, 
academic apologia pro vita nostruomo; the late Isaac Rosen- 
feld was one of their most perceptive critics. There are 
others whom the stoolies of criticism have fingered with 
deadly inaccuracy, such as Nelson Algren, Chandler Bros- 
sard, Anatole Broyard, and (may he put away his Harley- 
Davidson "74," nevermore to roam in nail-trimmed leather 
jacket and buttock-cracking jeans) Herbert Gold. But if 
we grant that the hipster-writer exists, the first thing to 
understand about him is that he is not a hipster, although 
he likes to play as if, any more than Nelson Algren is a 
Polish poker player. He is propagandist for a cause that 
does not ask to be preached. He is hung up on the dilem- 


ma of being cool and frantic at the same time. "Some of 
the best minds of our generation/' chants Allen Ginsberg, 
"have given up thinking." 

By definition an artist cannot be a hipster though he 
might follow the old style of dipping into forbidden waters, 
reminding us in various ways of Brecht, Gide, Gorki, and 
a number of English and Spanish philosophical picaros. 
Coolness can be defined as refusing-to-care not uncaring, 
but refusing. The hipster steals a car with a copy of Swann's 
Way in his pocket a book he doesn't read, a car he doesn't 
want The hipster's ideal is to smoke a cigar and study the 
Daily News while having immobile sexual intercourse. He 
has to carry out the act in order to refuse its meaning in 
vitality and refreshment and to debase the girl: he cannot 
simply abstain. The frantic man swings. He may move 
badly; his prose may be derivative and his reactions pre- 
mature; but he moves, man. The ash spills from his cigar. 
He gets more than kicks out of life. 

When Kerouac wails about "many and many a lost 
night, singing and moaning and eating the stars and drop- 
ping the juices drop by drop on the hot tar," he is in a 
respectable literary tradition, and the tradition's name is 
Thomas Wolfe. This is not hipster talk. When he passes 
through Fresno, sees an Armenian, and thinks: "Yes, yes, 
Saroyan's town," he has some of that aging bucko's free- 
wheeling self-love and just as literary. When he hints at 
orgy, his real daddy is the daddy of all the living boheems, 
Henry Miller, though he practices a conciseness of sexual 
rhetoric which probably derives from the publisher's tim- 
idity rather than from any cool indifference. Sometimes 
he writes the purest straight-and-true Hemingway, as when 
he meets a Mexican girl: "Her breasts stuck out straight 
and true." Later his friend Dean is driving a car no-hands, 
but "it hugged the line straight and true." 

This is not beat. This is not cool. This is not hip. 


This is the Columbia College boy vacationing on his GI 
Bill money, reading Papa. But despite all the bookish 
derivations, Kerouac retains a stubborn integrity: "I had 
nothing to offer anybody but my own confusion/ 7 

He has something more to offer. I would guess, writing 
before publication, that the bookselling business is not yet 
ready for a particular blend of nihilism and mush which 
might someday take its place in the gassy world of best- 
sellerdom.* When Kerouac mentions the Bomb, he makes 
us blush: he doesn't mean it, it's pure stylishness, and we 
resent the fact that the great disaster of contemporary his- 
tory should be used in passing to let us know that a poet 
"cares/' However, beyond the pretense, the derivations, the 
plotless rambling, the grate of vacant noise, Kerouac some- 
how achieves communication of a happy sense for the 
humor of car-stealing and marital confusion, for the in- 
sanity and pomp of addicts, for the joys of being tormented. 
And he gives us a fascinating tape recording of the skinny 
Bunyanesque car-thief, Dean Moriarty, craving intellect, 
wives, fast travel and bop, emitting fiery nonsense from the 
tail of his hurtling nuttiness: 

But of course, Sal, I can talk as soon as ever and 
have many things to say to you in fact with my own 
little bangtail mind I've been reading and reading 
this gone Proust all the way across the country and 
digging a great number of things I'll never have 
TIME to tell you about and we STILL haven't talked 
of Mexico and our parting there in fever -but no need 
to talk. Absolutely, now, yes? 

He balances the crazed Dean with a certain wryness about 
himself, whom he calls Sal Paradise: 

She was a nice little girl, simple and true. . . . 

Oh-oh, Hemingway again. 
* it was. H. G., Jan. 1962. 


. . . and tremendously frightened of sex. I told her 
it was beautiful. I wanted to prove this to her. She let 
me prove it, but I was impatient and proved nothing. 
She sighed in the dark. "What do you want out of 
life?" I asked, and I used to ask that all the time of 

Here he enlists both our indulgence and our sympathy 
for poor impatient Sal, and does it with wit and feeling 
and imaginative detachment But at other places he is 
capable of the melodrama of the pure-bred dormitory 

I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet 
who has walked across the land to bring the dark 
Word, and the only Word I had was <r Wow." 

At still another juncture he forgets that he is the Prophet 
of Wow and informs us that his word is Mad. There are 
other words in his sack, too. 

But wha hoppin? 

Nothin' hoppin, man. 

Dean Moriarty is brilliantly transcribed, not rendered 
as a man through time and desire, despite all his velocity, 
He begins mad, he stays mad, he concludes mad: he is 
a stripped, tormented, dancing celluloid doll, burning fast, 
without a gesture than can surprise us. Kerouac is loyal 
to him. In garlands of prose, the words mad, madness, 
madly are the stems to which the buffeted reader can look 
for a principle of organization. It is the end of the philos- 
ophy for which the hungering boy traveler yearns, the great 
death-in-life to fill the boredom. He is fading away because 
of boredom, since nothing can make him happy, nothing 
can enlist him for more than a few spasmodic jerks, and 
the mad ones seem in his eyes to have an inner purpose. 
They are driven, while he is hung up. Unfortunately for 
communicative purpose, after many repetitions of the 
phrase, "It was mad," we hear not the trumpets of Blake 


nor the divine flap of Antonin Artaud, but rather an interior 
decorator describing last night's binge. "As in a dream/' 
he adds because he wants to make life a mad dream and 
so pronounces MAD and DREAM at us over and over "we 
made the bed bounce a half hour/' The precise report of 
the time arouses our suspicion. Why was he looking at his 
watch? Such modest journalism does not imply a dreamlike 

Kerouac's people rarely talk, respond, exchange warmth 
with each other. They split their guts to cross the con- 
tinent, say "Hello, whooee, wow, Charlie Parker, soul" to 
their friends, get a quick divorce, make a quick marriage, 
and rush back to San Fran to a first or second or third wife, 
bringing along a girl from Denver. They zoom up and 
down the continent for no reason but bored impulse, 
though they call it "find our souls." Then they write 
eighteen thousand-word letters explaining why they never 
had that good long talk. Words fly, but they cannot com- 
municate. They "tell" each other things: "Went for a 
walk in the middle of the night and came back to my 
girl to tell her what I thought about during my walk. I 
told her a number of things." 

Even the wonderful chatter of the run-on hero, Dean 
Moriarty, which is the strongest thing in the book, tells 
us only one thing: He began as a psychopath and ended 
as a psychotic. Though lively along the way, this is not 
much of a journey, and tells little of anyone's life includ- 
ing the real life of Moriarty. 

On the Road asks us to judge the lives of its characters; 
it requires no real-life acquaintance with them to see that 
they are "true" projections that is, the book represents 
Kerouac's attempt to do justice to his friends. This is a very 
different matter from the artist's attempt to project mean- 
ingful people through the medium of his imagination onto 
the medium of the imaginations of readers: characters who 


will be true to possibility, not necessarily to fact On the 
Road reads right along it contains, essentially, some lively 
rambling conversation about the exploits of big bad boys 
but it is deeply insular in its intentions. Kerouac has not 
faced an important decision about whom he is writing for 
his "soul" (to prove that he has one), his friends (to 
prove that he is worthy of them), or the public at whom 
his editor and publishers aim the book. He seems to be 
confused by the difference between writing a novel about 
hipsters a legitimate stunt in an age of antiheroes and 
becoming a hipster in order to leave a track of paper. 

Kerouac displays some of the belly-patting in-group 
satisfaction which is expressed, in another arena, by another 
confused champion, Homer Capehart, senator from In- 
diana, who said, "I would rather be a friend of the President 
of the United States without brains than a friend of the 
Senator from Oklahoma with brains." Underlying Ker- 
ouac's autobiographical study of himself and his friends 
("Fiction is not possible my pals are too great we must 
do justice," he seems to say) is the decision that he would 
rather be a friend of a mediocre poet with madness than of a 
good poet without madness, rather a hip madman than a 
nonhip sane one, rather a beat bum than anyone else in the 
world. The writer and the senator are equally smug. 

Another example of insularity: locked in the privacy 
of fond illusion, Kerouac even believes in the 'liappy, true- 
hearted, ecstatic Negroes of America" with an old-fashioned 
heartache of nostalgia that is quite touching except for the 
harm and ignorance it stands for. It is my impression that 
such writers at Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin are re- 
sponding to a different sort of experience; the evidence of 
Negro life shows this people moving out of the Happy, 
True-hearted, Ecstatic category into a more complicated 
set of responses to the pressures under which they live. The 
reader can cite his own experiences, anything from bus 
boycotts to cool jazz, in support of this truism. It may be 


cause for sighing to the sentimentalists, but like the sta- 
tionary hipster, "Movement," in Bernard Wolfe's novel, 
The Late-Risers, or the unnamed hero of Ralph Ellison's 
Invisible Man, the Negro today aims to be more white 
than the whites. 

I take the Ginsberg of HowZ and the Kerouac of On 
the Road to be typical of their little boys' town at its rare 
best, serious, convinced, and trying hard. Through them, 
one can ask what this clan of superfrantic subhipsters wants. 
Are they bringing a scout's message, a Word? Do they 
represent a new style of American? Will they provide a 
bracing antidote to the chronic headache of American cul- 

They seem to be more a wounded shrilling and shrink- 
ing than an angry and vital reaction. Curiously enough 
their command performance of ecstatic rituals has misled 
them; they feel no ease in the expense of impulse; puzzled, 
they withdraw from pleasure. Madness is the penultimate 
escape, which seems both to allow joy and illumination 
and to oil over the troubling itch of responsibility. It seems 
so, that is, to the broody tourist, traveling home to his 
mother's suburb to describe his friends to his notebook, 
and then justifying them to his editors. I am sure that from 
within madness is different, and less delightful. They are 
ascetics of excess. They yearn for the annihilation of sense 
through the abuse of the senses. They look for a society 
of unchanging virtue in which the risks of possibility have 
been removed; pure love will reign, green marijuana will be 
discovered in the mad glove compartments of every straight 
and true stolen car, Saroyan will live at peace in Fresno, 
souls will tell each other things. The terms of heaven have 
changed, but all this is very familiar. The ultimate goal is 
that single small step beyond madness. 

What Kerouac wants is what the mystics driven by 
fright in all ages want, "the complete step across chrono- 


logical time into timeless shadows ... the stability of the 
Intrinsic mind." Such unhappy nonsense, such droopy- 
jeaned nay-saying to the blessed facts of time and change! 
There are other possible mysticisms, but Kerouac models 
his heaven on Marie Slopes' elegant, Swedenborgian, im- 
possibly weary orgasm, saying "wow!" in advance just be- 
cause he hopes to describe it as "MAD." No wonder all the 
fireworks. The experience he craves is simple, dark, and 
in any case inevitable to all of us sooner or later immola- 
tion. He is not content to wait Mortality terrifies him; 
better death at once than the long test of life. He expresses 
this fantasy with convulsive violence, trying to disguise the 
truth from himself and from the reader, using breathless- 
ness as a surrogate for energy. But he is compelled. The 
jitters are not an active state of being. He puts to the serv- 
ice of his rockabye dream of oblivion all the violence, sex, 
drink, dope, and the batty babbling buddies with whom 
he populates his heaven, anything, every easeful and bitter 
experience, even that of turning to rot in the Mexican 

The jungle takes you over and you become it The 

dead bugs mingled with my blood; the live mosquitoes 
exchanged further portions. . . . Soft infinitesimal 
showers of microscopic bugs fanned down on my face 
as I slept, and they were extremely pleasant. 

It would help Jack Kerouac if he could find within 
himself the strength to stop writing about Love, Life, and 
Death (with a dot dot dot between these stylish abstrac- 
tions) and remember the real boy who enjoyed midget auto 
races. He might then discover that he knows something 
about death, life, and love. At present he is a wolf of the 
hotrod age, Thomas and Virginia melted together into a 
damp creature from which even Aristophanes, who loved 
hybrids, would turn away. This wolf bays at the hipster 
moon, but howls for the Helen of someone else's youth; 


it ravens down the raw streets of America, taking gladness 
in the fact that the Mississippi has lived up to its advance 
notice in Mark Twain, describing one haunt after another 
as "storied," literary as literary can be, raised on the great 
books, as aren't we all? Where Thomas Wolfe broke his 
head butting against the world of New York intellectual 
highlife, Jack Kerouac is butting but unbroken against the 
world of the hipsters, a party that never quite pleases its 
adherents, no matter how much marvelous wild partying 
foreplay. Despite its drag race of words and gestures, On 
the Road does nothing, thinks nothing, acts nothing, but 
yet manages to be a book after all a loving portrait of hip 
Dean Moriarty and his beat, cool friends as they run 110 
miles an hour in order to stand still. It's a frantic book, and 
for that reason there is hope for Jack Kerouac. 

Pseudo-Hipster, You Can't Run Further. 

Meta-Hipster, You Can't Yell Louder. 

Hipster, Go Home. 


3. The Rise of the Treeniks 

A MODEST PROPOSAL: that the United States government 
declare the planting of trees illegal. 

Result: at last the youth of America will find some- 
thing new to do. Boys will sneak out in the dead of night 
with seedlings. The most advanced writers will discover a 
fresh subject matter: celebration of the gangs of roving 
youths, clad in torn tee shirts and blue jeans, with pockets 
filled with seeds and a language all their own. Defrocked 
tree surgeons in sordid little upstairs offices will forge pre- 
scriptions for oak, pine, and maple, for purely agricultural 
purposes. Teen agers, posing as landscape architects or 
lumber growers, will hold up nurseries and make off with 
truckloads of potted birch. 

Naturally, there must be rigorous repression raids of 
illegal plantations, destruction of smuggled saplings. Cam- 
ouflaged greenhouses will spring up in every corner of the 
great cities. The menace of the treeniks will be explained 
in the popular magazines, with actual photographs of boy 
and girl treeniks loafing on pine needles. The fellow trav- 
elers of the treeniks, who do not actually plant trees 


themselves, will meet to play the bongos about it, employ- 
ing with partial accuracy the language of reforestation, 
composing rhapsodies about the joy of the open road when 
you have an unplanted field before you. A few noisy tree- 
planters must be put in prison. Pushers, selling saplings, 
will go into hiding. For offering an acorn to a minor, the 
punishment will be twenty years. Harboring a Dangerous 
Vegetable will be an even greater offense. 

In coffee houses all over the country, poems will be 
read to jazz, all about how cool it is in the shade of the 
willow, dig. ("This is what I mean timber, man.") At this 
point every high school boy will want to be a treenik and 
the price of illegal saplings to an addict who really needs 
his fix may go as high as a hundred dollars. 

The police will be sent out on raids, burning and 
chopping and destroying any tree they discover. But they 
can never catch up with an acquiescent populace. The more 
they punish and destroy, the more widespread will be trees 
and treeniks. Certain policemen, of course, will grow 
wealthy. There will be mysterious traces of soil under their 
fingernails and in the trunks of their white Cadillacs. 

Students of popular culture will attempt to define the 
difference between Treesters and Treeniks, (The Treester 
planted trees before anyone else knew that they existed. 
The Treenik only started when it became a federal offense, 
described in detail in Life magazine.) The metaphysical 
sociologists will point out that this fad represents another 
manifestation of what William James called the need for 
a "moral equivalent of war." That is, the youth of our 
society requires some significant action which combines 
violence, innovation, and rebelliousness with an outlet for 
creative desires, the instinct to follow fashion, and a herd 
obedience. The Grove Press will devote its Evergreen Re- 
view to the glorification of the New Arboreal Revolution 
(sex replaced by tree-watching). 

And while the police raid and the non-tree un-wardens 


burn and the prisons are filled with illegal tree users and 
the youth is corrupted and the commentators commentate, 
this huge America of ours will in no time at all be covered 
by forests, green, immense, silent, and mysteriously con- 


Fiction of the Sixties 

THE PIG is the most discreet animal; it never looks at the 
sky. With just this much apology for my indiscretion, let 
me try to anticipate the color and content of American 
fiction in the decade ahead. I shall first perform some 
harassed wigwagging before my brother novelists, stalled 
on our dark roadways, and then offer an optimistic view of 
the next place on the road, and hope that the peculiar dis- 
connection between actual and prospective station can 
provide an occasion for inventory of self by both readers 
and writers. 

The immediate decade past has not been a bad time 
for novelists if they did not care about getting their 
messages through. There have been career opportunities 
aplenty for bona fide, stamped and certified, government- 
inspected, prime tellers of stories. George P. Elliott, one 
of the fine writers who matured during the decade of the 
fifties, recently commented wryly on these fellowships and 
prize opportunities, academic offers, lecture offers, writers' 
conference offers, article-writing offers, ghost-writing offers, 
review offers, copy-composing offers: "Fiction writers are in 

106 - 


short supply." Having been sponsored by United Artists 
and Esquire and sent by first-class jet on a visit to Holly- 
wood, where he stayed at the Beverly Wilshire and had 
his clothes valeted by the great movie company, and 
having been locked in man-to-man talk with mighty agents 
and famous actors, all this energy spent on an article for 
Esquire about a movie producer, he returns to the little 
back room in New York where he does his writing. There 
he contemplates the enthusiastic reviews of his novel, 
Parktilden Village, which has thus far been sold to about 
700 readers. Mr. Elliott has finally come into some esteem 
as a writer without, however, being read. 

Of course, 700 out of 180 million Americans suggests a 
startling number of nonreaders for a vigorous contemporary 
talent, but it is not a much more lugubrious percentage 
than 3000 out of 180 million, which is more typical of 
the nonbest-selling novel. The American cornucopia has 
enabled the American writer to keep alive, but the same 
embarrassment of riches which has fed his family with 
irregular spurts of cash has provided the prospective reader 
with enough distractions to avoid any imposition of books 
on his time. Perhaps some new foundation should give 
fellowships to novel-readers. 

We are all aware of the peculiar inadequacy of book 
distribution, beginning and ending with the tic of the 
nervous book buyer, who asks for whatever title is floating 
in the air that week. The first books of Saul Bellow, 
Nelson Algren, and Vladimir Nabokov sell in the hundreds; 
in these cases, eventually something happy occurs, a 
peculiar combination of virtue having out and the wheel 
of fortune spinning. A novel like Ralph Ellison's Invisible 
Man sells poorly, receives an important prize, picks up 
sales, finally does okay. For the publisher, who operates by 
statistics and needs only one best-seller to justify ten 
poor sellers, the business risk is a reasonable one. But what 
about the forsaken novelist, who loves his book and wrote 


it to say something important to an audience which does 
not realize that it has been spoken to? Well, he either 
sheds a noble tear (his own view of it) or a maudlin one 
(everyone else's opinion). He reminds himself, if he has 
the required strength: "No one asked you to write stories, 
pal. Do you want to or don't you?" 

Answer: he wants to, and wants to again; a gadfly 
whose victims do not know when they have been gadded. 

So much for shoptalk about the writer's financial and 
nervous problems. But the peculiarly book-shy audience 
bears watching for clues about the subject matter of serious 
American novelists in the immediate past and in the future 
which we project from it. 

In the thirties and the early forties, political and social 
ideologies preoccupied the minds of most writers, and 
many books ended with such rooster morals as "Strike!" 
or "He died for all of us" and had doctrinaire donkey titles 
like Brother, the Laugh Is Bitter. The old problems were 
still with us during the fifties, but the teeth of the beasts 
were sugared into ruin by the fact of a victorious war (how- 
ever temporary ), economic prosperity (however specious), 
and the lack of an important political ideal to set against 
apparent American failures. The blissful despair of the 
twenties had turned to the blind staggers; the great enemies 
of the thirties, fascism and depression, were slumbering 
quietly; the hopes of Marxism and Peace Through War 
were dead. 

The coming-of-age novel, the quest novel, the novel 
of philosophical purpose demanded intense formal and 
stylistic ingenuity to fill the gaps left by diminished political 
passions. Novelists could not yet make their deep response 
to the Bomb and a lemming impulse to race suicide drama- 
tically relevant in fiction. There was no active cause to join, 
no genuine war to declare (plenty of false wars and 
individual bandit expeditions). The simplicity and resolu- 


tion which even the dramatically complicated mind finds 
necessary were hard to discover in public life. 

A characteristic expression of the period is John 
Cheever's uneasy exploration of middle-class decorum in 
The Wapshot Chronicle and his many stories. Truman 
Capote and J. D. Salinger attempted to raise elegant ec- 
centricity and child psychology to the level of literature. 
Writers like Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and Bernard 
Malamud managed to make explicit philosophical purposes 
relevant in fiction by the force of their personal vision. 

The great fads were, first, the novel of American self- 
congratulation, typified by Sloan Wilson, Cameron 
Hawley, Herman Wouk, and other celebrants of business 
and obedience; and later in the decade, the so-called hipster 
writers, who also failed to produce a convincing voice. The 
trouble with both groups is a symptomatic one. They are 
not egotistical, but rafter nonegotistical, lacking a firm 
sense of self, thus terribly frightened, needful, vain, de- 
manding from a public which is itself avid for genuine 
personality an assurance that they really exist. The weak 
ego strives for strong assertion through immolation in 
bureaucracy or advertisements for its selfishness: Help me, 
tell me I am here! 

Many other passive novelists settle for everybody's un- 
happy childhood, exposes of the already exposed, tre- 
mendously gory and horny war novels, pseudo revivals of 
religious conformity, imitations of Henry James and Kafka 
and Fitzgerald, guilt-mongering and magnolia-mongering 
and the moony, loony interior decoration of prose. Some 
of them seem to know Shelley's description of the skylark, 
which pours out its "full heart In profuse strains of unpre- 
meditated art," but they forget that the sincere skylark 
is a mere feathered bird, not a hairy poet, and a human 
being's sincerity must come of more than the winds of 
nature blowing in his craw. The poet or the novelist sings 
most with his own heart when the arbiter of his intelligence 



has brought both his body and the rest of the world to- 
gether into the room where he does his singing. 

Certain ideological writers the Freudians, the neo- 
religious, and the hipsters, for example like to think 
of themselves as devilish chaps with probes stuck into their 
very depths, and so they rejoice. Milton's Satan made their 
point with succinct awareness and terror: "Which way I 
fly is Hell; my self am Hell" and thus understood that the 
awful privacy of the rebel must be mitigated by some 
meaningful communion with others. The writer needs 
a causal connection with his society, some sense that his 
work does something to make everyone's privacy a privilege 
rather than a burden. Else numbness, coolness, the erosion 
of self, and the acquiescence in self-murder around us. 
Without this causal connection with the wide world, the 
writer may issue shrill directives from his own coddled 
privacy; he may fidget and giggle and tell himself he is 
Whitman or Kafka, hip or cool, gimmicked by chic and 
as fashionable as a sports car; he is in hell all the same. 

The categories of American virtue (material accumu- 
lation plus good intentions) and American guilt (spiritual 
vagueness plus nuclear derangement plus impure inten- 
tions plus a clouded future) exclude the writer who is not 
a compulsive joiner of causes. And yet he seeks to broaden 
the allegiance of his one-member team. The most serious 
writers of this period feel as an immediate personal depriva- 
tion the lack of an imperative politics, an enveloping and 
involving view of the world. And the best creation of the 
time has implied an effort to close this gap. Probably 
no imaginative writing can do the work of a society in 
giving a sense of public hope and purpose to a people, 
but awareness of the lack and the personal effort to find 
personal solutions constitute an essential labor in a difficult 
time. Literature, like politics, is an art of the possible. 

A few writers have fled to traditional shelters re- 
ligious revival, political dogma, hedonism and its anemic, 


psychoanalytic grandchild, the pursuit of health, which 
provides a misunderstood parody of the classical purgation 
by pity and terror in order to reach order and calm. The 
strongest have accepted their ignorance and their doubt; 
they will continue, in the decade to come, perhaps learn- 
ing themselves, as they note along the way what some 
among the world of men have learned. As Ralph Ellison's 
invisible man asks, "Who knows but that, on the lower 
frequencies, I speak for you?" The labor of opposing 
invisibility to others and to ourselves will be continued 
by novelists who aim not at a secondary quality of health 
but at the primary issue of ransoming the time by inventing 
a sharply personal reality. 

In the decade ahead, the successors to Faulkner and 
Hemingway will be new novelists, striving in their little 
rooms and staring out the window, as writers always do; 
but they will be striving with issues and staring out over 
a world which the elder statesmen of American letters must 
find quite alien, slippery white, electronic, forbidding. The 
society celebrated by Faulkner and Hemingway, Wolfe 
and Fitzgerald, Dos Passes and Sherwood Anderson and 
Steinbeck has become a matter of history a history of 
vital concern, perhaps, but history. For that essential fic- 
tional mastery of the way things are, we must now look 
to younger voices evaluating an altered experience of Amer- 
ica. No one can call the roll of the strong talents of the 
sixties. Many of them are already at work, but some are 
probably still in high school. However, we can anticipate 
something of the kind of world out of which their stories 
and novels will emerge. 

The environment of American writing in the sixties 
will provide an accelerated continuation of the postwar 
period, with a possibility of closer challenge and confronta- 
tion of the risks of technological explosion, of living on a 
shrinking globe jostled by tie Soviet Union and China, 
and of the revolutionary reversals of the importance of work 


and leisure. The bloating of cities and populations, with 
resulting great shifts of power, suggests frontiers at least 
as exciting as those out in space. 

Many of the writers who will nominate themselves 
to reckon with our world through the magical synthesis 
of fiction will seem more strange than Martians to some 
of us. Roosevelt, Hitler, Stalin, the Depression, and the 
War will be dim history to them. My earliest "political" 
memories are of a teacher weeping over the bank closings 
and of the freight trains ant-heaped with men traveling 
hopelessly in search of work. What political reality will 
the youngest writers of the sixties carry forward from 
their seventh years? A TV apology by a worried candidate? 
A discussion of the effect of ileitis on the stock market? 

Not many of these writers will wash dishes in diners 
while going to college; scholarships even reach down to 
arts students. When they rebel against their parents, sug- 
gests one psychiatrist, the mania for popular psychology 
will oblige them to rebel against being understood rather 
than being misunderstood. They will be richer, healthier, 
groupier, more suburban, rarely driven into the early isola- 
tion of economic crisis, second-generation conflict, and 
rapid changes of class. 

They will nevertheless discover the eternal problems 
lying in wait after their air-conditioned classrooms and 
their Merit Scholarships. How to find proper work for a 
man? How to find a way of living that is worthy? How 
to survive in a world which is no longer addicted to neces- 
sary progress? Are we really reborn through love? If so or 
if not, how to live with the cardinal fact of death? 

But these new writers will have grown up among the 
specters of passivity, isolation, and doubt which haunt 
American political and family life. Passive self-absorption 
is surely the great antagonist of the creating mind. Unless 
others respond to the "moving image of desire/' the writer 
does not really have a command post; he is in isolation, 


no matter how shrilly he raises his voice. The writer of the 
sixties will have to thread his way through the interlocking 
loneliness of contemporary America, If he accepts the 
ticket for the Fun House maze, where all he can make 
out is his own reflection in thousands of mirrors, he fails. 

Dare anyone promise that fiction writers in the sixties 
will discover the causal connection between their work and 
our society, the impulse to make a self-engrossing music 
and the need to tell the best truth a man knows? Of course 
not. The first difficulty is that the imaginative writer is 
not that unacknowledged legislator which his dream as a 
young man tells him to be; he may find himself in "short 
supply/' but the occasional accident of best-sellerdom bears 
little relationship to a powerfully attentive audience. He 
is, rather, an acknowledged nonlegislator. But more im- 
portant than the personal career disconnection of the 
writer is the fact that he suffers like the rest of Americans, 
at three o'clock in the morning and all day long, individu- 
ally and as a people, with the need to find a significant 
connection between desire and love, ambition and work, 
principle and actual function in the largest world. \\Tiat, 
as a people, we lack of the large public issues of spirit and 
purpose, the novelists in their narrow rooms can hardly 

Then what will they give us in the sixties? At their 
strongest, they can offer relish even in trouble, freshness 
even in chagrin; they can tell us stories about how things 
are, how they might be; they can create heroes who point 
to better chances through being tested in extremity. They 
can refresh the sense of personality and remind us that 
the mysterious pride in self is more than the lining to our 
striving or cajoling public faces. If tragedy lies buried in 
a ruck of pathos, they can still show us where tragedy lies 
buried. This is familiar work for the novel, but it must be 
done afresh every time. 

At their frazzled worst, novelists will continue to give us 


the ephemera which inspire us to a constant activity of for- 
getting. The juvenile delinquent will remain loyally with us, 
as he has since Zeus made so much trouble for Kronos at 
dinner, but the hipster will fold his hypodermic and silently 
steal away; though no one can replace Jack Kerouac, the no 
one's name will be legion. The thick book-club novel, fash- 
ioned by steady hand and indifferent heart, and the thin in- 
terior decorator's novel, fashioned by the desire to pitch a 
camp in the tent of literature, will produce their accustomed 
results in the form of dollars and social status. The self-ab- 
sorbed outpouring which sometimes precedes a controlled 
gift and sometimes precedes silence and oblivion will con- 
tinue to find optimistic publishers and tireless but fatigued 
reviewers. The weekly great book about America's Mission 
will detonate ecstasies by the familiar missionaries. 

The new serious writers will find an inadequate substi- 
tute for the moral equivalent of the traditional life-and- 
death struggles in the coming-of-age novel and the 
suburban novel and the business novel and the exposure- 
of-selling-out novel. The novel of political and social protest 
must find new energies; it is difficult to be as attentive to 
Margaret Mead, telling American men to unite as Men, 
as one was to Karl Marx, telling us to unite as Workers. 
Though the alarmed viewers of American family life have a 
pertinent "issue/' "problem," "question," it does not sug- 
gest the bedrock challenge of the apparent breakdown of 
an economic system in the thirties. Can there be a powerful 
general cause for the writers of the sixties, apart from their 
personal need to tell a story? 

The vital accommodations to reality and demands 
upon experience will, I think, present themselves with a 
force that must change our sense of the American novel. 
The first question is moral, philosophical, metaphysical, 
religious; the second, linked with it like a Siamese twin, 
has political roots. How does a man place himself as a 


person in the coming new world? How will Americans ac- 
commodate to this world as a people? 

Part of the novelist's purpose has always been to pre- 
sent possibilities, to judge, to decide, and to give a weight; 
assurance, style, and energy to these decisions. In the 
sixties the best novelists will grapple with a problem which 
can be pejoratively described as "abstract" but which in- 
volves a return in extremity to the deepest poetic demand: 
to know. 

They will ask final questions: For whom do I live? 
For what? They will search out examples of personal value 
in a massified society: What is the relationship between 
freedom and isolation, loneliness and independence, re- 
sponsibility and that pseudo responsibility of merely follow- 
ing orders? Stripped down to poetry and story and the in- 
auguration of passionate conviction, they will leave the 
self-conscious recording of the details of social life to the 
social historians; the "research team/ 7 that miniature lonely 
crowd, is better equipped to perform this interesting but 
secondary function. 

Because the novelist relishes what is, he will continue 
to find joy in the bizarreries of talk and the salient observa- 
tion, but he will, I believe, look for a specific coherence 
in much the way that philosophers and religious thinkers 
traditionally have done. He will do this partly because the 
linguistic analysis of contemporary philosophy and the 
sermons of contented religiosity leave the primary questions 
unanswered. The writer who fought in Spain did nothing 
more than sign a petition for Hungary, but he must find 
a way to translate his ardent moral judgments into literary- 
meaning in time of shock and crisis. 

And the sixties will surely be a time of shock and crisis, 
sensed by the artists even if the mass of Americans do not 
admit it. (When a body is first wounded badly, it does 
not feel the pain.) The novelist obliges himself to confront 
the individual's changed relationship toward himself and 


a mass society; his changed assignment of duty will also 
be the result of two important political facts built into 
the texture of American life out of which the novel of 
the sixties will emerge. The first fact, relatively easy to 
accept, is that America is neither the great villain of mass 
civilization nor the wistful hope of the world. American 
self4ove and self-romanticization have jaded along with the 
self-hatred of the Anglophile or the Marxist myths. The 
second, more difficult realization has to do not with patri- 
otic indulgence but with power. The United States is 
no longer the young giant (peace to Thomas Wolfe); it 
will be one giant among at least three, including China and 
Russia and perhaps India and perhaps some European 
complex. The drama and images of American novels will 
either be reconciled with these facts or unreconciled, but 
fiction always shows the effect of its nourishment by facts. 

Let us follow this notion in one detail: If we accept 
the reality of Chinese power, we will begin to trade with 
China. If we trade with China, San Francisco will rival 
New York as a great port and center of cultural radiation. 
And when this occurs, the magnetic attraction of New 
York City for novelists may well be succeeded by the image 
of another city, in which European and Oriental influences 
are combined as Western and Byzantine influences were 
combined during the glory of Vienna. The St. Lawrence 
Seaway makes Cleveland, Ohio, an ocean port, with French 
sailors strolling up Ninth Street Jet planes will take Huck 
Finn to Moscow from Hannibal, Mo., in only a few 
hours. The map of the world is part of every novel. Even 
without hydrogen explosions to break up continents, the 
tidal waves of transport and trade and the erupting vol- 
canoes of national power will create a new mental geog- 
raphy and a new need for coherence in the sixties. 

Rhetoric and the shape of speech itself must reflect 
these tidal changes. A small example: If Saul Bellow were 
writing The Victim now, the sentence which begins the 


book, in which he describes New York as 'Tiot as Bangkok/* 
would carry less of the fantastic Arabian Nights associa- 
tions which it had for the writer ten years ago; he knows 
people who have been to Bangkok, he may go there him- 
self, Bangkok is there as a part of the hard life of the times. 

Fiction in the sixties will be bent to celebration of a 
world magnificently on edge, at the limit; while perhaps 
free in fact of economic crisis and war, we will remain 
under ultimate threat, with implications of being chastened 
for error by the disappearance of men from the earth. 
Avowing the facts of man's ambiguous destiny, the writer 
will try to give his private vision some viable control. He 
will often stumble, often settle for shrillness. Many 
thoughtful writers will create out of total mastery and 
partial awe. That is, they will know too much, or at least 
think too highly of their partial knowledge; brain-proud, 
convinced, combative, and making points, they will prune 
their effective awe before the brute gift of life on earth. 
The supple and compassionate mind is essential; knowl- 
edgeability is the enemy of awe, that sun under which 
the artist's wisdom turns and grows. 

The best writers of the sixties, as of all periods in 
history, will suffer gladly under partial mastery, being 
gripped by strong convictions and total awe. The novelist's 
ideas will finally be stopped before the greatest idea of all 
for a writer of fiction, the fact that his people live and 
that what they do is important; in other words, before 
his awe at the spectacle of human love and sorrow, folly 
and dignity. Having thought, the novelist will then suspend 
thinking and go into the kitchens, the streets, and the 
dilemmas of his fictive world. Once again he will discover 
actions, themes, styles, and forms which enable him to 
do that labor which must be performed afresh for every 
time, finding an exemplary reality in the true lie which is a 


A Dog in Brooklyn, a Girl in Detroit: 
A Life among the Humanities 

BETTER CAREER for a boy who seeks to unravel the 
meaning of our brief span on earth than that of phi- 
losopher? We all wonder darkly, in the forbidden hours 
of the nigh^ punishing our parents and building a better 
world, with undefined terms. Soon, however, most of us 
learn to sleep soundly; or we take to pills or love-making; 
or we call ourselves insomniacs, not philosophers. A few 
attempt to define the terms. 

There is no code number for the career of philosophy 
in school, the Army, or out beyond in real life. The man 
with a peculiar combination of melancholic, nostalgic, and 
reforming instincts stands at three possibilities early in 
his youth. He can choose to be a hero, an artist, or a 
philosopher. In olden times, war, say, or the need to clean 
out the old West, might make up his mind for him. The 
old West had been pretty well cleaned up by the time 
I reached a man's estate, and Gary Cooper could finish 
the job. Heroism was an untimely option. With much 

118 * 


bureaucratic confusion I tried a bit of heroic war, got stuck 
in the machine, and returned to the hectic, Quonset 
campus of the GI Bill, burning to Know, Understand, and 
Convert. After a season of ferocious burrowing in books, 
I was ready to be a Teacher, which seemed a stern neighbor 
thing to Artist and Philosopher. I took on degrees, a Ful- 
bright fellowship, a wife, a child, a head crammed with 
foolish questions and dogmatic answers despite the English 
school of linguistic analysis. I learned to smile, pardner, 
when I asked questions of philosophers trained at Oxford 
or Cambridge, but I asked them nonetheless, I signed 
petitions against McCarthy, wrote a novel, went on a 
treasure hunt, returned to my roots in the Middle West 
and stood rooted there, discussed the menace of the mass 
media, and had another child. 

By stages not important here, I found myself teaching 
the Humanities at Wayne University in Detroit. I am now 
going to report a succession of classroom events which, 
retrospectively, seems to have determined my abandonment 
of formal dealing with this subject The evidence does not, 
however, render any conclusion about education in the 
"Humanities" logically impregnable. It stands for a state 
of mind and is no substitute for formal argument How- 
ever, states of mind are important in this area of experi- 
ence and metaexperience. However and however: it 
happens that most of the misty exaltation of the blessed 
vocation of the teacher issues from the offices of deans, 
editors, and college presidents. The encounter with class- 
room reality has caused many teachers, like Abelard 
meeting the relatives of Eloise, to lose their bearings. Never- 
theless this is a memoir, not a campaign, about a specific 
life in and out of the Humanities. Though I am not a 
great loss to the History of Everything in Culture, my own 
eagerness to teach is a loss to me. 


News item of a few years ago. A young girl and her 
date are walking along a street in Brooklyn, New York. 
The girl notices that they are being followed by an 
enormous Great Dane. The dog is behaving peculiarly, 
showing its teeth and making restless movements. A mo- 
ment later, sure enough, the dog, apparently maddened, 
leaps slavering upon the girl, who is borne to earth be- 
neath its weight. With only an instant's hesitation, the 
boy jumps on the dog. Its fangs sunk first in one, then 
in the other, the dog causes the three of them to roll like 
beasts across the sidewalk. 

A crowd gathers at a safe distance to watch. No one 
interferes. The becalmed curiosity of teevee viewers. 

A few moments later a truckdriver, attracted by the 
crowd, pulls his vehicle over to the curb. This brave man 
is the only human being stirred personally enough to 
leave the role of passive spectator. Instantaneously ana- 
lyzing the situation, he leaps into the struggle attacking 
and beating the boy. He has naturally assumed that the dog 
must be protecting an innocent young lady from the un- 
seemly actions of a juvenile delinquent 

I recounted this anecdote in the classroom in order 
to introduce a course which attempted a summary experi- 
ence of Humanities 610 for a monumental nine credits. 
There were a number of points to be made about the 
passivity of the crowd ("don't get involved," "not my busi- 
ness") and the stereotypical reaction of the truck driver 
who had been raised to think of man's best friend as not 
another human being but a dog. In both cases, addicted 
to entertainment and cliches, the crowd and the trucker 
could not recognize what was actually happening before 
their eyes; they responded irrelevantly to the suffering of 
strangers; they were not a part of the maine. This led us 


to discussion of the notion of "community." In a closely 
knit society, the people on the street would have known 
the couple involved and felt a responsibility toward them. 
In a large city, everyone is a stranger. (Great art can give 
a sense of the brotherhood of men. Religion used to do this, 
too.) "Any questions?" I asked, expecting the authority of 
religion to be defended. 

An eager hand shot up. Another. Another. Meditative 
bodies sprawled in their chairs. "Are all New Yorkers like 
that?" "Well, what can you do if there's a mad dog and 
you're not expecting it?" "Where does it say in what great 
book how you got to act in Brooklyn?" 

I took note of humor in order to project humorous- 
ness. I found myself composing my face in the look of 
thought which teevee panelists use in order to project 
thinking. I discovered a serious point to elaborate several. 
I mentioned consciousness and relevance and the undefined 
moral suggestion implied by the labor which produces any 
work of art or mind. A girl named Clotilda Adams asked 
me: "Why don't people try to get along better in this 

Somewhat digressively, we then discussed the nature 
of heroism, comparing the behavior of the boy and the 
truck driver. Both took extraordinary risks; why? We broke 
for cigarettes in the autumn air outside. Then, for fifty 
minutes more, we raised these interesting questions, re- 
ferring forward to Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas, Dostoevski, 
Tolstoi, William James, and De Gaulle; and then boy, dog, 
girl, truck driver, and crowd were left with me and the 
crowned ghosts of history in the deserted room while my 
students went on to Phys Ed, Music Appreciation, Sosh, 
and their other concerns. Having been the chief speaker, 
both dramatist and analyst, I was exalted by the lofty 
ideas floated up into the air around me. I was a little let 
down to return to our real life in which dog-eat-dog is 


power, and certainly not wisdom, provided the goal of my 
students. Not even wealth was the aim of most of them. 
They sought to make out, to do all right, more prideful 
than amorous in love, more security-hungry than covetous 
in status. I saw my duty as a teacher: Through the Human- 
ities, to awaken them to the dream of mastery over the facts 
of our lives; I saw my duty plain: Through the Humanities, 
to lead them toward the exaltation of knowledge and the 
calm of control. I had a whole year in which to fulfill this 
obligation. It was a two-semester course. 

Before she left the room, Clotilda Adams said, "You 
didn't answer my question." Fact. 

Outside the university enclave of glass and grass, 
brick and trees, Detroit was agonizing in its last big year 
with the big cars. Automation, dispersion of factories, and 
imported automobiles were eroding a precarious confi- 
dence. Fear was spreading; soon the landlords would offer 
to decorate apartments and suffer the pain. Detroit remem- 
bered the war years with nostalgia. Brave days, endless 
hours, a three-shift clock, insufficient housing, men sleeping 
in the all-night, triple-feature movies on Woodward and 
Grand River. Though the area around the Greyhound and 
Trailways stations was still clotted with the hopeful out of 
the hill country of the midsouth and the driven from the 
deep South they strolled diagonally across the boulevards, 
entire families holding hands some people suspected what 
was already on its way down the road: twenty per cent un- 
employment in Detroit. 

The semester continued. We churned through the 
great books. One could classify my students in three gen- 
eral groups, intelligent, mediocre, and stupid, allowing for 
the confusions of three general factors background, ca- 
pacity, and interest. This was how we classified the Hu- 
manities, too: ancient, medieval, and modern. It made a 
lot of sense, and it made me itch, scratch, and tickle. 
Series of three-form nice distinctions. According to Jung 


and other authorities, they have certain mythic signifi- 
cances. The course was for nine credits. All the arts were 
touched upon. We obeyed Protagoras; man, just man, was 
our study. When I cited him "Man is the measure of all 
things" Clotilda Adams stirred uneasily in her seat: "By 
which Protagoras no doubt meant Woman, too/' I assured 
her. She rested. 

Now imagine the winter coming and enduring, with 
explosions of storm and exfoliations of gray slush, an 
engorged industrial sky overhead and sinus trouble all 
around. The air was full of acid and a purplish, spleeny 
winter mist Most of Detroit, in Indian times before the 
first French trappers arrived, had been a swamp and below 
sea level. The swamp was still present, but invisible; city 
stretched out in all directions, crawling along the high- 
ways. Though Detroit was choked by a dense undergrowth 
of streets and buildings, irrigated only by superhighways, 
its work was done with frantic speed. The Rouge plant 
roared, deafened. The assembly lines clanked to the limit 
allowed by the UAW. The old Hudson factory lay empty, 
denuded, waiting to become a parking lot. Then the new 
models were being introduced! Buick! Pontiac! Dodge! 
Ford and Chevrolet! Ford impudently purchased a huge 
billboard faced toward the General Motors Building on 
Grand Boulevard. General Motors retaliated by offering 
free ginger ale to all comers, and a whole bottle of Vernor's 
to take home if you would only consent to test-drive the 
new Oldsmobile, the car with the. . . . I've forgotten what 
it had that year. All over town the automobile companies 
were holding revival meetings; hieratic salesmen preached 
to the converted and the hangers-back alike, lines at the loan 
companies stretched through the revolving doors and out 
onto the winter pavements. But many in those lines were 
trying to get additional financing on their last year's cars. 
The new models were an indifferent success despite all the 
uproar of display and Detroit's patriotic attention to it. 


Searchlights sliced up the heavens while the city lay under 

Teachers at Wayne University soon learn not to tease 
the American Automobile. Lese Chrysler was a moral of- 
fense, an attack on the livelihood and the sanctity of the 
American garage. Detroit was a town in which men looked 
at hubcaps as men elsewhere have sometimes looked at 
ankles. The small foreign car found itself treated with a 
violent Halloween kidding-on-the-square, scratched, bat- 
tered, and smeared (another Jungian series of three!). A 
passionate and sullen town, Detroit had no doubts about 
its proper business. All it doubted was everything else. 

I often failed at inspiring my students to do the as- 
signed reading. Many of them had part-time jobs in the 
automobile industry or its annexes. Even a Philosopher 
found it difficult to top the argument, "I couldn't read 
the book this week, I have to worfe," with its implied 
reproach for a scholar's leisure. But alas, many of these 
stricken proletarians drove freshly minted automobiles. 
They worked in order to keep up the payments, racing like 
laboratory mice around the cage of depreciation. Certain 
faculty deep thinkers, addicted to broad understanding 
of the problems of others, argued that these students were 
so poor they had to buy new cars in order to restore their 
confidence. The finance companies seemed to hear their 
most creative expressions, not me. Deep in that long De- 
troit winter, I had the task of going from the pre-Socratic 
mystics all the way to Sartre, for nine credits. Like an 
audio-visual monkey, I leaped from movie projector to rec- 
ords to slides, with concurrent deep labor in book and 
tablet. We read The Brothers Karamazov, but knowing 
the movie did not give credit. We studied "The Waste 
Land," and reading the footnotes did not suffice. We 
listened to Wanda Landowska play the harpsichord on 
records. We sat in the dark before a slide of Seurat's 
"La Grande Jatte" while I explained the importance of the 


measles of pointillisme to students who only wanted to 
see life clear and true, see it comfortably. Clotilda Adams 
said that this kind of painting hurt her eyes. She said 
that there was too much reading for one course "piling 
it on. This isn't the only course we take." She said that she 
liked music, though. All Moses had to do was to bring the 
Law down the mountain to the children of Israel; I had to 
bring it pleasingly. 

We made exegeses. I flatly turned down the request of 
a dean that I take attendance. As a statesmanlike com- 
promise, I tested regularly for content and understanding. 

Then, on a certain morning, I handed back some quiz 
papers at the beginning of class. Out on the street, a main 
thoroughfare through town, it was snowing; this was one 
of those magical days of late winter snowfall pale, cold, 
clean, and the entire city momentarily muffled by the 
silence of snow. The room hissed with steam heat; a smell 
of galoshes and mackinaws arose from the class. "Let us 
not discuss the test let us rise above grades. Let us try 
to consider nihilism as a byproduct of the Romantic re- 
vival " I had just begun my lecture when an odd clashing, 
lumping noise occurred on Cass Avenue. "Eliot's later 
work, including 'The Four Quartets/ which we will not 
discuss here. . . ." 

But I was interrupted by a deep sigh from the class. 
A product of nihilism and the romantic revival? No. It 
was that strange tragic sigh of horror and satisfaction. Out 
in the street, beyond the window against which I stood, 
a skidding truck had sideswiped a taxi. The truckdriver 
had parked and gone into a drugstore. The cab was mashed 
like a cruller. From the door, the driver had emerged, 
stumbling drunkenly on the icy road, holding his head. 
There was blood on his head. There was blood on his 
hands. He clutched his temples. The lines of two-way 
traffic, moving very slowly in the snow and ice, carefully 
avoided hitting him. There were streaks of perforated and 


patterned snow, frothed up by tires. He was like an island 
around which the sea of traffic undulated in slow waves; 
but he was an island that moved in the sea and held hands 
to head. He slid and stumbled back and forth, around and 
about his cab in the middle of the wide street He was 
in confusion, in shock. Even at this distance I could see 
blood on the new-fallen snow. Drivers turned their heads 
upon him like angry Halloween masks, but did not get 
involved. Snow spit at his feet 

No one in the class moved. The large window through 
which we gazed was like a screen, with the volume turned 
down by habit, by snow, by a faulty tube. As the teacher, 
my authority took precedence. I ran out to lead the cab 
driver into the building. An elderly couple sat huddled in 
the car, staring at the smashed door, afraid to come out 
the other. They said they were unhurt. 

I laid the man down on the floor. He was bleeding 
from the head and his face was a peculiar purplish color, 
with a stubble of beard like that of a dead man. There was 
a neat prick in his forehead where the union button in his 
cap had been driven into the skin. I sent a student to call 
for an ambulance. The cab driver's color was like that 
of the bruised industrial sky, "You be okay till the am- 
bulance ?" 

Foolish question. No alternative. No answer. 

We waited. The class was restless. When they weren't 
listening to me, or talking themselves, or smudging blue 
books in an exam, they did not know what to do in this 
room devoted to the specialized absorption of ideas. Si- 
lence. Scraping of feet, crisping of paper. We watched the 
slow-motion traffic on the street outside. 

The cab driver moved once in a rush, turning over 
face down against the floor, with such force that I thought 
he might break his nose. Then slowly, painfully, as if in 
a dream, he turned back and lay staring at the ceiling. His 
woolen lumberjacket soaked up the blood trickling from 


one ear; the blood traveled up separated cilia of wool, 
which drew it in with a will of their own. There was a 
swaying, osmotic movement like love-making in the eager 
little wisps of wool. An astounded ring of Humanities 610 
students watched, some still holding their returned quiz 
papers. One girl in particular, Clotilda Adams, watched 
him and me with her eyes brilliant, wet, and bulging, and 
her fist crumpling the paper. I tried by imagining it to 
force the ambulance through the chilled and snowfallen 
city. I saw it weaving around the injured who strutted 
with shock over ice and drift, its single red Cyclops' eye 
turning, the orderlies hunched over on benches, chewing 
gum and cursing the driver. The ambulance did not arrive. 
Clotilda Adams' eye had a thick, impenetrable sheen over 
it. She watched from the cab driver to me as if we were 
in some way linked When would the authorities get there? 
When the medics? There must have been many accidents 
in town, and heart attacks, and fires with cases of smoke 

Before the ambulance arrived, the police were there. 
They came strolling into the classroom with their legs 
apart, as if they remembered ancestors who rode the plains. 
Their mouths were heavy in thought. They had noses like 
salamis, red and mottled with feL They were angry at 
the weather, at the school, at the crowd, at me^ and espe- 
cially at the prostrate man at our feet He gave them a 
means to the creative expression of pique. (Everyone needs 
an outlet.) 

Now Clotilda Adams took a step backward, and I re- 
call thinking this odd. She had been treading hard near 
the pool of blood about the cab driver, but when the 
cops strolled up, she drifted toward the outer edge of 
the group of students, with a sly look of caution in her 
downcast, sideways-cast eyes. Her hand still crisped at the 
returned exam paper. This sly, lid-fallen look did not do 
her justice. She was a hard little girl of the sort often 


thought to be passionate skinny but well-breasted, a high 
hard rump with a narrow curve, a nervous mouth. 

The two policemen stood over the body of the cab 
driver. They stared at him in the classic pose one cop 
with a hand resting lightly on the butt of his gun and the 
other on his butt, the younger cop with lips so pouted 
that his breath made a snuffling sound in his nose. They 
both had head colds. Their Ford was pulled up on the 
snow-covered lawn outside, with raw muddled marks of 
tread in the soft dirt. When the snow melted, there would 
be wounded streaks in the grass. The cab driver closed 
his eyes under the finicking, distasteful examination. At last 
one spoke: "See your driver's license/' 

The cab driver made a clumsy gesture toward his 
pocket. The cop bent and went into the pocket. He flipped 
open the wallet, glanced briefly at the photographs and 
cash, glanced at me, and then began lipreading the license. 

The cab driver was in a state of shock. There was 
a mixture of thin and thick blood on his clothes and 
messing the floor. "This man is badly hurt/' I said. "Can't 
we get him to the hospital first?'* 

"This is only your driver license," the cop said slowly, 
having carefully read through Color of Hair: Brn, Color of 
Eyes: Brn, and checked each item with a stare at the 
man on the floor. "Let me see your chauffeur license." 

"He's badly hurt/' I said. "Get an ambulance." 

"Teach," said the older cop, "you know your business? 
We know ours." 

"It's on the way," said the other. "Didn't you call it 

"No, one of the students ..." I said. 

He grinned with his great victory. "So don't you 
trust your pupils neither?" 

Shame. I felt shame at this ridicule of my authority 
in the classroom. A professor is not a judge, a priest, or a 
sea captain; he does not have the right to perform mar- 


riages on the high seas of audio-visual aids and close 
reasoning. But he is more than an intercom between stu- 
dent and fact; he can be a stranger to love for his students, 
but not to a passion for his subject; he is a student himself; 
his pride is lively. The role partakes of a certain heft and 
control. There is power to make decisions, power to abstain, 
power to bewilder, promote, hold back, adjust, and give 
mercy; power, an investment of pride, a risk of shame. 

Clotilda Adams, still clutching her exam, stared at 
me with loathing. She watched me bested by the police. 
She barely glanced, and only contemptuously, at the man 
bleeding from the head on the floor. She moved slightly 
forward again in order to participate fully in an action 
which apparently had some important meaning for her. 
She had lost her fear of the police when she saw how we all 
stood with them. The limits were established. 

The police were going through the cab driver's 
pockets. They took out a folding pocket knife and cast 
significant looks at it and at each other. It had a marbled 
plastic hilt, like a resort souvenir. It was attached to a key 

"Hey!" one said to the half-conscious man. "What's 
this knife for?" 

"Where'd you get them keys?" the other demanded, 
prodding the cabbie with his toe. 

"A skeleton key. These cab companies," one of the 
cops decided to explain to Clotilda Adams, who was stand- 
ing nearby, "they get the dregs. Hillbillies, you know?" 

I said nothing, found nothing to say. I now think 
of Lord Acton's famous law, which is accepted as true 
the way it was uttered. The opposite is also true the 
commoner's way: Having no power corrupts; having ab- 
solutely no power corrupts absolutely. 

The bleeding seemed to have stopped. The cab 
driver sat up, looking no better, with his bluish, greenish, 
drained head hanging between his knees. His legs were 


crumpled stiffly. He propped himself on his hands. The 
police shot questions at him. He mumbled, mumbled, ex- 
plained, explained. 

"How long you been in Detroit? How come you come 
out of the mountains?" 

"Why you pick up this fare?" 

"What makes you think Cass is a one-way street?" 

Mumbling and mumbling, explaining and explaining, 
the cab driver tried to satisfy them. He also said: "Hurt. 
Maybe you get me to the hospital, huh? Hurt real bad." 

"Maybe," said one of the cops, "maybe we take you 
to the station house first. That boy you hit says reckless 
driving. I think personally you'd flunk the drunk test 
what you think, Teach?" 

I sent one of the students to call for an ambulance 
again. In the infinitesimal pause between my suggestion 
and his action, an attentive reluctant expectant caesura, 
I put a dime in his hand for the call. One of the cops 
gave me that long look described by silent movie critics 
as the slow burn. "They drive careful," he finally said. "It's 
snowing. They got all that expensive equipment." 

The snow had started again outside the window. 
The skid marks on the lawn were covered. Though the 
sky was low and gray, the white sifting down gave a peace- 
ful village glow to this industrial Detroit. Little gusts 
barely rattled the windows. With the class, the cops, and 
the driver, we were living deep within a snowy paper- 
weight. I felt myself moving very slowly, swimming within 
thick glass, like the loosened plastic figure in a paperweight 
The snow came down in large torn flakes, all over the 
buildings of Wayne University, grass, trees, and the pale 
radiance of a network of slow-motion superhighways be- 
yond. Across the street, a modern building glass and alu- 
minum strips lay unfinished in this weather. Six months 
ago there had been a student boarding house on that 
spot, filled with the artists and the beat, the guitar-wielders 


and the modern dancers, with a tradition going all the way 
back to the Korean War. Now there were wheelbarrows 
full of frozen cement; there were intentions to build a 
Japanese garden, with Japanese proportions and imported 

My student returned from the telephone. He had 
reached a hospital 

The cab driver was fading away. Rootlets of shock 
hooded his eyes: the lid was closing shut. A cop asked 
him another question what the button on his cap stood 
for it was a union button and then the man just went 
reclining on his elbow, he slipped slowly down, he lay in 
the little swamp of crusted blood on the floor. You know 
what happens when milk is boiled? The crust broke like 
the crust of boiled milk when a spoon goes into coffee. 
The cop stood with a delicate, disgusted grimace on his 
face. What a business to be in, he seemed to be thinking. 
In approximately ten years, at age forty-two, he could re- 
tire and sit comfortable in an undershirt, with a nonre- 
turnable can of beer, before the color teevee. He could 
relax. He could start to relax. But in the meantime nag, 
nag, nag. Drunk cabbies, goddamn hillbillies. The reckless 
driver on the floor seemed to sleep. His lips moved. He was 

Then a puffing intern rushed into the room. I had 
not heard the ambulance. The policeman gave room and 
the intern kneeled. He undid his bag. The orderlies glanced 
at the floor and went back out for their stretcher. 

I stood on one side of the body, the kneeling intern 
with his necklace of stethescope, and the two meditative 
cops. On the other side was the group of students, and at 
their head, like a leader filled with wrath, risen in time 
of crisis, stood Clotilda Adams, still clutching her exam 
paper. There were tears in her eyes. She was in a fury. 
She had been thinking all this time, and now her thinking 
had issue: rage. Over the body she handed me a paper, 


crying out, "I don't think I deserved a D on that quiz. 
I answered all the questions, I can't get my credit for Philo 
of Ed without I get a B off you." 

I must have looked at her with pure stupidity on my 
face. There is a Haitian proverb: Stupidity -won't kill you, 
but it'll make you sweat a lot. She took the opportunity to 
make me sweat, took my silence for guilt, took my open- 
mouthed gaze for weakness. She said: "If I was a white 
girl, you'd grade me easier." 

Guilt, a hundred years, a thousand years of it; pity 
for the disaster of ignorance and fear, pity for ambition 
rising out of ignorance; adoration of desire; trancelike 
response to passion passion which justifies itself because 
passionate. ... I looked at her with mixed feelings. I could 
not simply put her down. In order to put down, your 
own mind must be made up, put down. She had beauty 
and dignity, stretched tall and wrathful, with teeth for 
biting and eyes for striking dead. 

"But I know my rights," she said, "Mister. My mother 
told me about your kind lent my father money on his car 
and then hounded him out of town. He been gone since 
fifty-three. But you can't keep us down forever, no sir, 
you can't always keep us down " 

She was talking and I was yelling. She was talking 
and yelling about injustice and I, under clamps, under 
ice, was yelling in a whisper about the sick man. She was 
blaming me for all her troubles, all the troubles she had 
seen, and I was blaming her for not seeing what lay before 
her, and we were making an appointment to meet in my 
office and discuss this thing more calmly, Miss Adams. 
Okay. All right. Later. 

The police, the doctor, the orderlies, and the injured 
cab driver were gone. The police car out front was gone 
and the snow was covering its traces. The janitor came 
in and swept up the bloodstains with green disinfectant 
powder. The frightened couple in the cab were released. 


They all disappeared silently into the great city, into the 
routine of disaster and recovery of a great city. I dismissed 
the class until tomorrow. 

The next day I tried to explain to Miss Adams what 
I meant about her failing to respond adequately to the 
facts of our life together. Her mouth quivered. Yesterday 
rage; today a threat of tears. What did I mean she wasn't 
adequate? What did I know about adequate anyhow? 
Nothing. Just a word. Agreed, Miss Adams. I was trying 
to say that there were two questions at issue between us 
her exam grade and her choice of occasion to dispute 
it. I would like to discuss each matter separately. I tried 
to explain why putting the two events together had dis- 
turbed me. I tried to explain the notions of empirical 
evidence and metaphor. I recalled, without successful com- 
munication, the story of the young couple and the dog 
in Brooklyn. 

She did not see why she shouldn't have at least a B 
on her quiz. Her back was strong, her head was high, she 
didn't need to be compared to no black dog in Brooklyn. 

Finally I urged her to have her exam looked at by the 
head of the department, but she refused because she 
knew in advance that he would support me. "White is 
Right/' she said. 

"Do you want to drop out of the class?" 

"No. I'll stay," she said with a sudden patient, weary 
acceptance of her fate. "Ill do what I can." 

'Til do what I can too/' I said. 

She smiled hopefully at me. She was tuckered out by 
the continual alert for combat everywhere. She was willing 
to forgive and go easy. When she left my office, this smile, 
shy, pretty, and conventional, tried to teH me that she 
could be generous a friend. 

We had come to Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in 
our tour through time and the river of humanities. I 
pointed out that the English philosophers were noted for 


clarity and eloquence of style. I answered this question: 
The French? Isn't French noted for clarity? Yes, they too, 
but they are more abstract. On the whole. In general. 

The class took notes on the truths we unfolded to- 
gether. Spring came and the snow melted. There was that 
brief Detroit flowering of the new season jasmine and 
dogwood which, something like it, must have captivated 
the Frenchman, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, when he 
paused on the straits of Detroit in 1701. University gar- 
deners planted grass seed where the patrol car had parked 
on the lawn. The new models, all except the Cadillac, were 
going at mean discounts. 

"The 'Humanities/" wrote Clotilda Adams in her 
final essay, "are a necessary additive to any teacher's de- 
velopment worth her 'salt' in the perilous times of today. 
The West and the Tree World' must stand up to the war 
of ideas against the Iron' Curtain." This was in answer 
to a question about Beethoven, Goethe, and German 
romanticism. She did not pass the course, but she was 
nevertheless admitted on probation to the student-teacher 
program because of the teacher shortage and the great need 
to educate our children in these perilous times. Of today. 


Humanities 610 provided ballast for the ship of cul- 
ture as it pitched and reeled in the heavy seas of real life; 
I lashed myself to the mast, but after hearing the siren 
song of grand course outlines, I cut myself free and leaned 
over the rail with the inside of my lip showing. 

It would be oversimplifying to say that I left off 
teaching Humanities merely because of an experience. 
Such an argument is fit to be published under the title 
"I Was a Teen-Age Humanities Professor/' I also left for 
fitter jobs, more money, a different life. Still, what I remem- 
ber of the formal study of Truth and Beauty, for advanced 


credit in education, is a great confusion of generalities, 
committees, conferences, audio-visual importunities, and 
poor contact "Contact!" cried the desperate deans and 
chairmen, like radio operators in ancient war movies. And 
much, much discussion of how to get through to the 
students. How to get through? Miss Adams and Mr. Gold, 
cab driver and Thomas Hobbes, policemen and the face- 
less student who paused an instant for a dime for the 
telephone we all have to discover how relevant we are 
to each other. Or do we have to? No, we can merely perish, 
shot down like mad dogs or diminished into time with no 
more than a glimpse of the light 

Words fade; our experience does not touch; we make 
do with babble and time-serving. We need to learn the 
meaning of words, the meaning of the reality those words 
refer to; we must clasp reality close. We cannot flirt for- 
ever, brown-nosing or brow-beating. We must act and 
build out of our own spirits. How? How? We continually 
need a new politics, new cities, new marriages and families, 
new ways of work and leisure. We also need the fine old 
ways. For me, the primitive appeal to pleasure and pain 
of writing stories is a possible action, is the way in and 
out again, as teaching was not. As a teacher, I caught my 
students too late and only at the top of their heads, at the 
raw point of pride and ambition, and I had not enough love 
and pressure as a teacher to open the way through their 
intentions to the common humanity which remains locked 
within. As a writer, I could hope to hit them in their 
bodies and needs, where lusts and ideals were murkily nur- 
tured together, calling to the prime fears and joys directly, 
rising with them from the truths of innocence into the 
truths of experience. 

The peculiar combination of ignorance and jadedness 
built into most institutions is a desperate parody of per- 
sonal innocence, personal experience. Nevertheless, educa- 
tion, which means a drawing out even formal education, 


a formal drawing out is a variety of experience, and experi- 
ence is the only evidence we have. After evidence comes 
our thinking upon it. Do the scientists, secreting their 
honey in distant hives, hear the barking of the black dog 
which follows them? Will the politicians accept the lead 
of life, or will they insist on a grade of B in Power and 
Dominion over a doomed race? We need to give proper 
answers to the proper questions. I would like for myself 
and everyone else to have more experience of the human- 

Particular life is still the best map to truth. When 
we search our hearts and strip our pretenses, we all know 
this. Particular life we know only what we fenow. There- 
fore the policemen stay with me: I have learned to despise 
most authority. The cab driver remains in his sick bleed- 
ing: pity for the fallen and helpless. And I think of Clotilda 
Adams in her power and weakness; like the cops, she has 
an authority of stupidity; like the victim of an accident, 
she is fallen and helpless. But someplace, since we persist 
in our cold joke against the ideal of democracy, the cops 
still have the right to push people around, Clotilda is 
leading children in the Pledge of Allegiance. We must find 
a way to teach better and to learn. 



American Places 

Paris: Notes from La Vie de Boheme 

(Avec Tout Conforts) 

THE FAMILIAR PARTAKES of revelation in a foreign place. 
The traveler peeps with astounded eyes at Lobster d VAmer- 
icaine and at the sum of his check in the land of cheap 
living. The aggressive humility of the men taking sun in 
a square, their necks as busy as those of birds in their collars: 
these are the lunch-hour heliotropes of Columbus Circle 
or the Cleveland Public Square, but in Paris they are 
French. That a sign asks the tourist not to throw flowers 
in the toilet: even this is Parisian charm. That the per- 
formers at a private spectacle of sexual acrobatics afterwards 
dress and shake hands with each of the American connois- 
seurs of such chamber music: this is politesse, for the 
French never leave a room without taking each right hand 
in individual farewell. ("They say they're good friends/' 
whispers a Marshall Plan secretary at tie departing backs 
of the performing couple, "in real life/') 

The old streets of an old city remind him of age, 
and he returns to his hotel to dream again the nightmares 
of childhood. The tourist, helpless and blind, returns to his 



American infancy because he does not share that of those 
about him; he goes to bed with mouth nibbling over guide- 
book and phrasebook. Painfully awake during the first 
months, used and played on, he is syncopated through 
cunning variations into new rhythms and a questioning of 
all habit. Bread, words, gestures, staircases, windows, 
noises, the touch of linen, the smell of dust, the movement 
of mouths and the muscles which come of new vowels, the 
new laughter, the new anger, the new children and the very 
new old people: these summon up once more the dreams 
of fire, thickened air, and locked rooms mastered by the 
young American bent on growing up. 

A discovery: the possibility of movements of love and 
hate from which merely his clothes, the little leap of an 
American step, and the Maine-to-California smile on a 
people who live in a morality of Happiness are enough 
to exclude him. This protection weighs heavy on pride. 
(An acquaintance at the Cafe Voltaire has offered three 
thousand dollars for his passport.) 

The months pass, and he learns to sleep again. For 
the French he will always be le petit American, but the 
risks of being a tourist are met He has his habits again. If 
he still moves crabwise, and his eyes on stalks, through a 
world whose meanings are lost to him, at least he has 
enough money and a large enough amiability to be for- 
given his sins, le pauvre petit, il vient d'arriver de 
rAmerique, ah, out dors. You are from New-York, le 
Theque-sas, or Ollywood? Est-ce vrai que le Coca-Cola 
donne le cancer? He is likely to join the American Legion 
(Paris Post), the Chamber of Commerce, the American 
Students and Artists Club ('The Center"), buy a season's 
ticket to the American Theatre, and search out the com- 
pany of the retired fullback who has lived in Montparnasse 
for three years while writing the biography of his football 
coach. Naturally they discuss France, their remarks pres- 


aged by a certain conceit: "I have a French friend, and he 
says " 

The American notion about hospitality often dis- 
engages the first sociological bludgeon for a hurt belaboring 
of the French. After his initial enthusiasm about the cafe 
as institution, annex to the family, the university, the 
market place, and the bed, the American lonely for a 
home begins to wonder why his new acquaintance always 
proposes Les Oases or Chez Machin for their meetings 
instead of inviting him to his apartment. He blames the 
Parisian for a coldness and abstraction; he seems to seek 
partitions, sparing himself the surrender of reserve implied 
by the presence of the furniture of a life, which remind 
him of his lies and sit in judgment on his off-hour dreams. 
Leaving his new acquaintance, the American strolls the 
streets at nightfall and listens to the definitive clacking of 
shutters; one stretch and lean of those inside, and then 
silence the family life of these others is blacked out by a 
long habit of mistrust. Alone, he knows that in a similar 
situation he would have invited the visitor home. 

If he remains in Paris long enough for only four or 
five meetings among the romantic nervosities of cafe life, 
this is the judgment he will carry away: the Frenchman is 
stifled in armor despite his talk and his insistence on 
another drink, he lives behind locks, he is afraid of in- 
timacy. "Le domicile est sacr f this phrase brings a pious 
policeman glare to all faces. Despite its smell of food and 
aperitifs, its benevolent ease of smoke and gossip, its 
wickery luxury and its quick confidentiality, the deepest 
sense of a cafe is discretion. For the discreet ones, cafe 
life is the trapping on the armor, that tassel which distracts 
an eye from the blade only if it has never seen one before. 

After a time, however, his friend will send him a note 
suggesting dinner for Saturday evening not at his home, 
but at a restaurant. And then, finally, having accomplished 


the ceremonials of late afternoon drinks and a long meal, 
he will invite him apologetically to dine with his family. 

"Is it true/' asks the astounded Parisian, "that in 
America you can invite casual acquaintances to eat with 
you at your own table, and then never see them again?" 
a shudder at taking le domicile in vain. To him this ease 
has the relation to responsible hospitality that the whine 
and the sentiment of an American soldier's harmonica has 
to real music. "Here/' he will explain, "an invitation to 
my home for an evening meal means that you are be- 
coming a part of my family, and if I fail to see you for a 
week I will worry that you might be ill and come to ask 
after you." He sees any intersecting of the circles of career, 
pleasure, and the family as a bravado in a history hostile 
to extravagant moral completions; a fatal and complicated 
Eden is a joke in these times, yet French irony is such as 
to play this joke at last as a fatality of remaining human. 
With a self-conscious will that this must be and with 
that smile playing on the nervy nodules of muscle of his 
language made flesh the host offers you his home and 
his friendship. If he rises from the table now and the 
shutters clack to, it is to shut the others out 

A constant in the reluctance of a Frenchman to let 
you see his home is the economic X; almost all families 
are aware of decline within their lifetimes, and the process 
of gradual impoverishment has been a condition of 
bourgeois life. Most Parisians live in shabbiness or real 
poverty though they may perform work of skill and power. 
Doomed to this, but not accepting it as have the Italians, 
who live within the void of their public future and have 
given up the justifications of power, there is the shame 
of those recently fallen. They dwell in urban responsi- 
bilities without the use of urban pride. There is an impulse 
to conceal the pulpy cushions and the children in clumsy 

But this only contributes to a cultural fact which is 


consistent with the Parisian's life at every turn his 
separation of family life from the life connected with his 
work en ville, his impulse to keep his wife unsullied by 
contact with his friends, his desire to master his family 
and to guard its purity while he takes the risks of the wide 
wide world. (Though his wife may have an ami whom 
she meets in a cafe "from five to seven/' he is likely to 
know outrage only if this appointment interferes with his 
dinner: he never keeps his wife waiting while he returns 
from his own petite amie.} The marriage of convenience, 
retaining its propriety at least up until the last war, 
is still frequent; the two categories of women wife- 
mothers and petites-amies are accepted by most French- 
men, who attend all-male schools from earliest childhood. 
The attempt to assimilate women to "masculine" life 
provides one of the cliches of French burlesque of America. 
Skepticism about the possibility of monogamy associates 
itself with an assumption all the more stern concerning 
the sanctity of the home. Divorce is difficult and relatively 
rare, but the back booths of the cafes are crowded in 
the late afternoon with couples of all ages busy in their 

What Bergson called morsellisation an anatomizing 
of living event into affairs to be filed in compartments 
has triumphed in Paris as it does in all commercial cultures. 
False separations head off real susceptibilities. Everything 
has its role, its proper moment, in the life of a free citizen; 
the good life consists in turning up these proprieties a 
mistress who knows her place, a moneychanger with sen- 
sibilities and wit about his trade, a way of saving on taxes 
and investing the gain abroad which does not interfere with 
the important business of life at home on the rue du 
Faubourg St-Honore. What are these important matters? 
An economy of spirit is not everything, true; but a man 
must recognize what is possible a recognition usually as- 
sociated with the proper. Is there someone who disagrees? 


"Mais la vie est comme gd, mon vieux. On a vegu, quoi" 
This, the voice of the bourgeois, is the voice of the guardian 
of all great capitals. He gives us the way of life which we 
think of as enduring, the one which preserves values. 
Naturally, the word vdue is understood ostensibly, doing 
the service of the geographer's baton to point to something 
outside time and men. 

Morsellisation offers a sort of security, a logic and a 
material which is acquiescent to planning and clever book- 
keeping. This is a function the ransom of security and 
dignity partially accomplished by money in America, 
but in Paris even the metaphysical uses of money are 
enfeebled by inflation. You can't save for a rainy day 
when the concierge tells you that all umbrellas so far 
known have snapped, rotted, leaked, or skittered off in the 
first high wind. The French have lived for a long time with 
governments that don't govern, with money that will not 
buy tomorrow what it buys today, and in a place where 
war may soon make human life worth even less than 
money. The habits of dignity, which include the keeping 
of secrets, help preserve the sense of dignity. The terrace 
of an anonymous caf 6 near one of the many railway stations 
can be under the April sun, under the September sun 
the final home of all your uneconomical dreams. And 
you can still offer yourself a rich-as-blood coup de rouge 
for five or six cents. 

Coy about it, hesitant and afraid, giving this gesture 
of hospitality more weight than is necessary, the man to 
whom the tourist has presented a letter of introduction 
at last says: "So come at eight, can you? Will you?" 

When a Parisian admits a friend to his home, some 
of the charm of a cafe acquaintanceship passes; he is in- 
troduced to the pleasures of a family, and to its troubles. 
He has mounted the hierarchy of a culture built upon 
class, tradition, and old troubled moralities, to a special 
level of privilege and responsibility. 


Most Americans in Europe prefer the frank generosity 
offered by Italians. Few stay long enough to see France, 
which displays the Louvre and Versailles, her splendid 
false teeth rinsing in glass, because, not only a flirt, she 
doesn't like to be looked at. 

Nevertheless thousands of Americans remain in Paris. 
Apart from those who come because of a job with the 
government, private business, or one of the international 
organizations for most of these Paris is an appendage 
to the working day the largest group is still that of the 
Bohemes, the experts on eternal truth and irregular hours. 
The great run of American Bohemia is on the Left Bank, 
its moral politics swinging from the conservative devotion 
of the graduate students bent on tenure to the rabid 
wobblyhood of the beboppers. 

Samples: The student of dress designing (GI Bill) 
whose mother sends him comic strips by airmail; the 
plump damp timid Francophile all hot for the Life of 
Art as a college French teacher, who earned the money 
for his trip to Europe by selling pornographic postcards 
obtained in Paris during the war; the six-foot-high gradu- 
ate of Radcliffe who comes to Paris to write a dissertation 
on John Donne and takes a BouT Mich' poet as lover 
he tries to jump out the window when she first catches 
him alone in his room, but is trapped in the scaffolding; 
the litterateur who uses his wife's mother's money to court 
poets and critics, fancying himself the poor student of 
Flaubert and Mallarme but hiring a cook with a high 
cauliflower hat when he invites his esthetic friends to 
dinner. This one, having been an American in Paris for 
four years, lives in a world of abstractions and gossip, cul- 
ture and fierce incestuous rivalries with his local com- 
patriots. He ambiguously trots between the ambition to 
be accepted as court American in an "aristocratic" French 
world and the sense of his ambition, which is to be invited 


to the country house of Mme. X so that he can wear his 
pride like a ribbon on his suede vest among his country- 

A once-successful radio writer decides that his money 
will go farther among the expatriates of Paris. He has been 
blacklisted and can no longer find work in New York, but 
discovers a pleasant home and status among the American 
political (not "cultural" or "racial") exiles. He listens to 
recordings of Josh White and recalls his activist past with 
a group of disconsolate entertainers and pouting journalists 
with ambitions to eat magnificently and be in-the-know. 
There is a comic opera pretense of plotting and "biding 
our time" like Lenin in Switzerland but a secret con- 
viction that the "working class" shares nothing of his 
ideas, not even his opinions on jazz, and that his exile 
is a matter of personal comfort. 

The first four of this cast represent the Americans- 
in-Paris of old. The cheap-livers, the lovers of Gaul, the 
romantic and the social climbers, the refined amorists: 
they were already here to greet Henry James, although the 
institution has since been fecundated by a spill of American 
public wealth in the form of fellowships, the GI Bill, and 
so forth. French snobbery for Id vie Amtricaine (le Coca- 
Cola, le Betty-Grable, le jazz-hot) has reached the level 
where an American student can support himself by selling 
hashish under the name of marijuana. 

You still find at the D6me, the caf6 in which Heming- 
way is said to have written some of the first Hemingway, 
the bearded American artist he is for the ages who 
suffers the audible anemia of a man who lives alone, that 
clacking feebleness of the heart as he enters a room where 
no one cares about him. Watch him mooch out the good 
life, which is a tingle something like the sensation the 
hand of the Luxembourg Gardens puppeteer must enjoy 
under the skirt of Becassine. The serious drama of his 
month is the exercise of dialectical skill with a Mont- 


parnasse whore, one of those singing mathematicians of 
love. The next evening, playing the role of cynical grief 
before her jiggle and her large-pursed bounce, he lights 
her a Gauloise and leans away from the flame to take 
the most dramatic light He moves on, our artist who 
resists parody like the tubercular, as if he has some creative 
other thought in his mind, but only as if; like the chroni- 
cally ill, he has precisely nothing in constant and dutiful 
attendance through the soft yellow-gray afternoons and 
the chocolate evenings of the Left Bank. He may finally 
assuage his solitude with some cute American girl barely 
over the habit of circling her z's and fs, having fled the 
textbook think-traps for the museum culture-traps. Drink 
up, girls, for both love and wine will become more expen- 
sive: and tomorrow you may be a teacher, or in nine 
months a mother. 

The love-wine-and-beauty bohemes, talking art and 
abortion in Ivy League blue jeans "St. Francis is a 
darling saint, so existentialist, I mean Freudianismly 
speaking" still crowd the cafes but in a withering flock. 
The new model has a research grant, a wife, a beret made 
of the finest felt, and a vocabulary constructed of the 
guaranteed latest cultural truths. His eyes run with the 
yellow crud of scholarship and his pockets rustle with the 
brittle lint of moving money. Far from Mimi and 
Rodolphe, he accepts the responsibilities of success and the 
American Century; he tries to cultivate his colleagues at 
the Sorbonne and the College de France but finds them 
politically immature, gives a frightened paterfamilias sniff 
at the zazous of the Dupont Quartier Latin, and hurries 
back to America so that his friends will not scramble past 
him on the treadmill of university promotion. "They're 
hard to get to know," he says of the French; which is, 
besides, true. 

The White Russians who trot after tourists to hiss 
invitations to "an interesting scientific experience, Sir" 


shake their heads over the last instance, the colony of 
American political refugees. This group bring a new form 
to American life abroad despite its links with the past: 
those who settle in a foreign land because their politics 
prevent their finding work and because they fear political 
persecution. That, as individuals, they are mostly unclear 
about what the heavy words political persecution can mean 
does not lighten their fears. Their situation is complicated 
by the efficiencies of modern politics. Some Americans 
are refused passports to leave the States; others, once here, 
have had their passports confiscated and have been sent 
back by State Department, Embassy, or FBI order. An 
indiscreet word in a cafe can travel far. "The American 
passport is a privilege, not a right." There follow lyric cries 
about a break for freedom in Czechoslovakia, but they 
dutifully embark for their Manhattan apartments which 
they have sublet for six months at a reasonable profit 

Of the two most impressive of the younger French 
writers, Jean Genet and Raymond Queneau, the first is an 
orphan outlaw, a prudish homosexual thief and blackmailer 
singing a moral invocation to what he is pleased to call 
Evil; the second is a metaphysician of language finding 
his sources in popular speech, a witty Pythagorean hoaxer 
dead-earnest about his jokes, an inspired grammarian. Both 
are intensely self-conscious artists, Genet descending willy 
or nilly from a French literary tradition including Frangois 
Villon and Balzac's Vautrin, Queneau an erudite working 
at the lessons of Joyce; neither began by fitting the French 
cultural ideal of the homme de lettres. Yet both are flutter- 
ing through the wind tunnel of publicity and coterie- 
thinking, those special obligations which have the effect 
of shoving them past the matter of their effort into the 
category of performing celebrities. This drafty passage 
shimmers like the land of milk, honey, and tender justice 
for visiting Americans. It's worth a look at least, leaving 


Jean Genet and Raymond Queneau to their proper reward, 
which is to be read and not gossiped about. 1 

What could be more luxurious than the ripe French 
assimilation of the esthetic vocations to other professions? 
Art is located in a world with structure and depth, like 
the snail expertly buttered, spiced, and replaced in its shell; 
competent writers are more important in Parisian life than 
good cooks or even escargots de Bourgogne. This status 
gives the quiet dignity of the Maison de la Societ6 des 
Gens de Lettres (grass on the grounds, beards on the Gens) 
the relation to American literary groups that the New York 
Athletic Club has to an armpit-haunted Belleville public 
bath. While in America, poetry (for example) is almost 
always a solitary vice, clucked over in a family and a poor 
recommendation to a landlord, in Paris the tradition can 
make the writer as imposing a personage as Bing Crosby 
in America or Princess Elizabeth in England. The Aca- 
demic Frangaise, the Academic Goncourt, and lesser cor- 
porations; the circles revolving about certain caf6s, 
philosophies, reviews, publishing houses, and commanding 
individuals; the prestige accorded a number of annual liter- 
ary prizes greater than the number of variations on the 
theme of the Rose Bowl; a public interest in writers un- 
fettered by a reading of their works; such a social texture 
in which is embedded the lonely joy of putting one word 
after the next gives meaning to the designation homme 
de lettres. It is more than a metier like another; it cor- 
responds in the popukr imagination to the film and sport- 

1 Queneau: LOOT de Reiril, Pierrot Mon Ami, Les Exercises de StyU 9 
etc. Loin de Retdl has been published as The Skin of Dreams by New 
Directions in an excellent translation by H. J. Kaplan. 

Genet: Le Journal du Voleur, Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs, Miracle de 
la Rose, etc. Bernard Frechtman's translation of Our Lady of the Flowers 
has been banned in the United States by the Douane Quixotes charged 
with inspecting baggage and public virtue, but can be bought at exorbitant 
prices from the usual bootleggers. 

1962: Genet is now well-known as a playwright 


ing aristocracy in America, the royal family in England, 
and the bureaucratic demiurges of the Soviet Union. 

In Paris culture is high on the heap. The politicians 
and generals having defaulted, the champion cyclists turn- 
ing out to be steady and Swiss or Italian and spectacular 
up hills, the millionaires laying low or taking their money 
on the lam into Argentina or the Chase Bank, the descend- 
ants of Bourbon or Napoleonic royalty eking out a frugal 
living by marrying Americans, the boxers KO'd in Detroit 
and the chanteurs de charme senile or touring South Amer- 
ica, the gang-stairs finding nothing left to rob but Egyptians, 
Americans, and each other, it has come the turn of im- 
mortal beauty & truth. Its practitioners hug the top of the 
hierarchy; they wiggle often enough to merit the attention 
of those below. Every culture needs a hero, and we select 
our heroes in varied modes but worship them similarly. The 
clothes, travels, witticisms, diseases, feuds, birthdays, and 
amorous fortunes of such as Sartre, Cocteau, Gide, Mauriac, 
Colette, Montherlant, Claudel, and the latest "Goncourt" 
are discussed with the same loving attention in the French 
press as those of Joan Crawford in a hieratic fan magazine. 
The tucking of a napkin under the laureate's chin at a prize 
dinner can be an event as crucial as the gestures of some 
darling Broadway character. Everyone recognizes the ef- 
figies among the wax figures of Joan of Arc and the two 
Napoleons at the Muse Grevin. The light reading of a 
Parisian office worker on the metro is likely to be his weekly 
Figaro Litterdre, Opera, or Les Nouvelles Litterdres 
three of a selection of artistic patisserie in comparison to 
which the Saturday Review of Literature is weighty fodder. 
Between the launching of an American battleship and a 
parade in Red Square, the newsreels report Sartre lighting 
his pipe in front of the Rose Rouge or Picasso throwing 
sand at his wife on the beach at Antibes. (How anguished 
is the flame! how masterful the sidearm sweep!) 

Not a day passes without radio interviews of living 


writers or an "evocation" of a dead one. The interviews 
are recorded and economically stored for later use, in 
combination with "original music," as evocations. Death 
masks, souvenir tag-ends of clothing or hair, and tender 
anecdotes provide a living for the ghoul-critics and a thrill 
for the rest of us, who thus partake of glory and buy the 
memorial edition which includes Z's only unpublished 
letter, in which he returned the unused portion of a round- 
trip ticket to Lyon. Exhibitions in his honor will include, 
besides the usual manuscripts, photographs, and letters, 
household objects, baby shoes, and his hearing aid if pos- 

When Gide died, reporters pursued Jean-Louis 
Barrault, wearing a mussed toupee and carrying a bouquet 
of violets, into the room where the body lay. So many 
photographs of the master appeared that it seemed incredi- 
ble that Gide, taken up by his duties as a model, could 
ever have found time to write. The producer of a film 
about him announced that he would not profiteer on the 
publicity surrounding the death of his old friend and would 
wait several weeks before releasing it. Besides, the editing 
was not yet finished. One of the epidemic of tributes to 
Gide everyone wrote one, and those who didn't were 
approached for comment by Inquiring Reporters began: 
"My intimate friend Andre Gide, whom I last saw in the 
summer of 1937 . . ." Frangois Mauriac, after a lifelong 
struggle against Gide's skepticism, sent him to purgatory 
in his column in the Figaro, sparing him the expected 
eternity of burning with a remark that, where he is now, 
he is busy repenting of his errors. He justifies this lenient 
sentence by invoking the religiosity to be found in Gide's 
great joy in a solitary making of his world. 

Writers and painters are news; they have status; it's 
comfortable. There is no doubt about the diffusion of in- 
terest in Picasso or Sartre in the newsreel theater, and some 
of it may eventually be directed toward their work. Their 


antics are enjoyed by others than their fraternity brothers. 
Behind this popular interest in the arts, of course, lie com- 
plex and serious justifications. The "classic" character of 
the language and education, the continuity of a tradition, 
the values and tensions created in the middle and upper 
classes, the ambiguous relationship to the state and the 
Church, and the special history and situation of a capital 
such as Paris: these suggest some of the sources. There are 
rewards for those who offer to fill the social function. But 
there is a price for being institutionalized. 

The price is paid in a danger of abdication of the two 
great moral roles of the poet: the apocalyptic, which is the 
will to possession by prophecy the divine afflatus and 
the analytic, the examination of perspectives for a vision 
of social texture. (Of course there are also other and less 
moral reasons for any great poefs work.) The prophetic 
calisthenics are flabbily performed by a man who, listed in 
the business section of the telephone directory under 
"Hommes de Lettres," awaits a call from a morning paper 
to give his opinion on the latest cabinet crisis. The argu- 
ment that, by becoming qua poet a respectable part of the 
social structure, the man of letters gains a dramatic depth 
of view is more seductive. The worm in this cheese is that 
the job of a poet remains all the same a lonely one, one 
not a corporate endeavor, self-separated from union, club, 
and class, and only partaking of these respectabilities in 
its most trivial aspects. The first work of creation does not 
change essentially under the pressures of machine culture, 
and the homme de lettres who feels that his craft can be 
compared to the daily effort of a mason or a lawyer is living 
a lie which will prevent his ever coming to a valid per- 
spective on the lives of lawyers or masons. Literature is 
not a career like another, despite the successful effort of 
some writers toward comfort and a place; specialization 
here makes experts but involves a subtle moral disqualifi- 
cation. (Rimbaud foundered before a problem which in- 


eludes this one.) Even a weekly book review should be 
a task essentially different from masonry. 

Yet a poet cannot parade his exclusion as a private 
right. Suffering (Ol le pauvre) is no longer the high privi- 
lege of his cunning. Fifty years ago, when the issues of life 
and death, love and power, were not yet identified with 
work, mass populations, total governments, and total war, 
it was still possible to sing songs of the greatest loneliness 
and the greatest truth. That the reveries of a Sade, a Kafka, 
or a Jarry now prove prophetic, demands of their heirs a 
more responsible sharing in the dirty work of being human. 
These others, thinking to speak for themselves or for tragic 
ideals, were social historians of the highest order: often 
a tribute to genius but worse luck for us in advance of 
their society. Reading Alfred Jarry today we hear a rustle 
of the ashes from the crematoriums, we watch a shift of 
the frozen chemical shadows of Hiroshima, we fall among 
the groans of the bodies in forced labor as these destroyed 
creatures, who are only as guilty of being human as the 
rest of us, join to cry out, 'Vive Ubu!" this, being no 
longer merely a great joke, has a tendency forever to alter 
the lonely estate of poetry. If Ubu Roi remains a burlesque 
and a happy trick, well, that's a tribute to the will to life 
in those left alive. 

This is what we have given up for what we have 
learned; it's a trick in which we no longer presume to use 
masks. We must recognize ourselves among the actors; 
we should still laugh. Here is the theater-in-the-round we 
must dare to play in. 

The dilemma for those who presume to speak for the 
time left us is compounded by knowledge that participation 
must imply a partial acquiescence in horrors, and yet only 
in this hard yielding can disapproval have meaning. Neither 
our disapproval nor any other judgment can annul our 
participation. (I mean by "participation" a state of causal 
involvement.) We're up to our necks. Not even Dante 


had it that hard during the most responsible literary voyage 
yet recorded. At least and from the beginning he had a 
good chance to attain the third part of the trilogy, al- 
though in our recollections of his tour he is mostly seen 
fixed, and Virgil too, deep in the inferno and far from 
divinity. Terza rima serves the technical uses of his lan- 
guage better than it does the symbolic use predicted. 

Still, by his deeds and by grace, he is confident of being 
guided finally upward. Our world is busy telling us that 
this is, alas, the life of Jewish vision: salvation, if at all, 
here below. 

In the end, because each demands a further responsi- 
bility, either the isolation or the assimilation to other work 
of the American writer (states having much in common) 
seems preferable to the moral tout confort of Parisian 
literary life. Isolated, the caustic of a man comes into full 
play, despite the danger of an arty frothing, and one es- 
sential characteristic of creative effort can be faced in its 
extreme condition: its willed loneliness. Or, for a farmer 
like Faulkner, a businessman like Wallace Stevens, or a 
teacher like everyone else, the soreness of divided attention 
acts against the knowledgeability of a conditional running 
with the pack to make possible the flight of passion off 
experienced fact which seems the only valid one the one 
to which we still have a right. 

Any remarks on this subject, however hortatory in 
tone, can only work as a way of judging although they 
may be stated as prescriptions. What la vie de boheme and 
its partner in incest, the life of official art, imply is that the 
writer's self-consciousness is enough. Such artists may grant 
research its uses, a deliberate "experiencing"; they remain 
incapable of the sort of responsible participation in society 
which creates both persons and individuals. What the 
writer writes about has to be something which he knows 
not as an artist in addition to the special perspectives which 


he always brings to the matter of his life. Without this 
causal involvement in some way as a nonartist, the special 
consciousness of self suspended, he forfeits the possibility 
of his eye-and-heart's ever having anything important but 
itself to work on. This self -consciousness alone is important; 
it is no longer sufficient, nor ever really was. 

Everyone whimpers about the risks and obstacles to 
life in America for the artist. There is no point in beating 
the dead horse of American cultural immaturity; it will stay 
as dead as usual. I want to suggest that, in a world like 
ours, the risks of that cultural privilege which we like to 
imagine for a golden age are greater and more grave than 
the risks of faulty connections. That is, more grave for what 
is essential to the artist: his first demand on himself to 
know and to make. The golden age returns for but an 
instant among the aroma of the madeleines while chatting 
of Proust with a Gallimard editor at one of the afternoon 

On the Boulevard St. Germain, near the Odeon, there 
is a plaque indicating "The League for the Defense Against 
the Enemies of Culture Second floor to the left." 

Ne pas jeter des fteurs dans les aisances, S.V.P. 


Cleveland: Mation-on-the-Erie 

"O CLEVELA3sn>, the Forest City! The Fountain City! O, 
la Belle City!" cried a nineteenth-century newspaper editor, 
visiting from Wisconsin with his French phrasebook and 
his head full of wind. "Cleveland doesn't put enough garlic 
in its cooking; it's no friend to food,'* complained the 
twentieth-century wife of a professor at Western Reserve 
University. "I like Cleveland because it's so nice to me/' 
said a lovely young visitor with a New York road company 
(waist 23, bust 34, hips 35), "with all its theaters and 
goodwill and its new teevee channels opening up/* 

The subject of these diverse meditations is the sixth 
largest community in the nation, a metropolitan area of 
about a million and a half, representing just one per cent 
of the total population of the United States. It is the 
world's center of paint manufacturing, and is said to con- 
tain the largest Hungarian settlement outside the city limits 
of Budapest, but is chiefly remarkable for its wealth and 
its stability. Newspapers estimate that Cleveland had among 
the largest average family incomes of the great American 
cities last year about six thousand dollars. One of its 



suburbs, Cleveland Heights, a community of sixty thou- 
sand souls whose men coast eagerly downhill into the city 
each morning and rise profitably amid a bumper-to-bumper 
irritation each evening, boasts an average annual income 
of about nine thousand dollars per family. 

What does Cleveland do with its money? 

It worries about it, as does everyone else. It wonders 
whether the party will go on and it wonders why it isn't hav- 
ing such a good time as it expected. There is a sense of 
dream, as if one were to wander loose in a studio making 
gen-u-ine counterfeit dollars. Some of the fantasts fresh to 
the hiring of tax lawyers do not yet feel secure in this ma- 
terialized dream. Most of us, however, are doing quite well, 
thank you, from the art lover who recently settled between 
one and two million dollars on an actress once the favorite 
of Pirandello, to the lowliest policeman with a bingo 
parlor or a bookie on his beat and an occasional all-expenses- 
paid trip to Miami Beach. 

Spread out strategically along Lake Erie between De- 
troit and Buffalo, Cleveland sometimes refers to itself in 
magazine advertisements as "the Best Location in the 
Nation," with good rail, truck, and water communications, 
a central position among raw materials and markets, and 
a climate humid enough to spur on the inhabitants to 
energetic activity in order to forget the nasal drip with 
which a good proportion of us are inflicted. The members 
of Moses Cleaveland's party who surveyed this territory 
in 1796, ate delicious broiled rattlesnake and found both 
commercial and esthetic delights in barter with the Indians, 
but worried about "the subtil, baneful wind" off Lake Erie, 
which led straight to death if breathed through the mouth. 
Despite their fears, there has not been an epidemic, flood, 
earthquake, volcanic eruption, or other serious act of God 
except for the purchase by Bill Veeck of the Cleveland 
Indians. Mr. Veeck has since moved on. 

The water on a first-baseman's knee, the laryngitis of 


a disc jockey, or another policeman surprised in an act 
of burglary or venery while on duty provide the staple diet 
of newspapers in quest of local catastrophe. Cleveland 
policemen obey the Philosopher's great doctrine of the 
Golden Mean between penuriousness (Atlantic City) and 
profligacy (Beverly Hills), accepting just the amount re- 
quired in favor and shakedown to send these commissioned 
Aristotelians to Miami Beach, Coral Gables, and a proper 
dignity in the sunset of their days. They are sometimes 
punished for the excessive taking of bribes by a lonely duty 
on the East Ninth Street pier, jutting onto Lake Erie, where 
they are told to watch out for invaders from Canada. Any 
time the Canadians want to take over, the Force can be 
counted upon to turn its back if the fix be put in with a 
minimal delicacy. 

Cleveland is secure in steady employment, diversified 
industry, and a profitable balance between war and civilian 
production. Everything from television sets and chlorophyll 
pills to gold bricks and honorary degrees has a good market 
here. Racial and class tensions are relatively low, the Na- 
tionality Gardens in Rockefeller Park a symbol of the way 
Polish, German, Czech, Italian, Jewish, Hungarian, Rus- 
sian, English, Serbian, and Greek vegetables can grow 
together in harmony. As long as business continues good, 
the antagonism among groups which is one of America's 
sadnesses everywhere can probably be confined to the level 
of personal bitterness. There may be ill feeling over the 
movement of neighborhoods, but no race riots for this year 
or next. The current controversy over slum clearance, which 
involves resettlement of a large area, will probably be 
resolved by bureaucratic rather than Klan methods. Thus 
far, the local officials, the Negro population, and the city 
as a whole have held firm against a few hysterics made at 
the inevitable. A fine residential community of prosperous 
Negroes has developed among the mansions near Western 
Reserve University. As to others of the oppressed prole- 


tariat, a typical real-estate item in one of the newspapers 
tells of the sale to a machinist of a "ranch-type" in Shaker 
Heights. Price: "About $45,000." 

The city has expanded beyond the dreams of John D. 
Rockefeller, whose home on Euclid Avenue was razed to 
make room for a parking lot, and even now approaches the 
fantasies of the Van Swefingen brothers, those heroes of 
our mythology who lived together in one room of their 
castle near Cleveland and provide perhaps the most 
dramatic of the local success stories. (They died owing 
between ten and twenty million dollars.) The rapid spread 
of the city has created transportation difficulties, housing 
difficulties, and political difficulties, with slow money to 
be made in solving these problems and fast money to be 
made in compounding them. Clevelanders have not proved 
reluctant to accept either variety of cash. The fifty-two- 
floor Terminal Tower, built by the authority of Van 
Sweringen paper, looks out with commercial pride over 
the movements of money in a land once wasted by Indians, 
its flag far up aflutter to indicate a ball game today and its 
spire imperceptibly in motion against the forces of wind 
and gravity. 

Culture is not neglected amid such prosperity. Cleve- 
land's little-theater groups, symphony orchestra, chamber- 
music societies, art museum, zoo, and sandlot baseball 
leagues are known throughout our commuting world, from 
Painesville on the east to Lorain on the west, and in justice 
it must be added even beyond. Ballet, opera, and stag 
movies all have their enthusiasts. The Health Museum, 
first in America, houses "Juno, the Transparent Lady/' 
whose inner organs light up when a button is pressed. 
Particularly among the "nationality" groups, traditional 
crafts enjoy a continued practice ceramics, stained-glass 
windows, organ-building, weaving, and so on. Cleveland's 
sense of being a patron of the arts is fortified by such 
local events as the annual visits of the New York Metro- 


politan Opera, the Ballet Russe, and Bennett Cerf; Hart 
Crane once lived here, and Time was once edited in Cleve- 
land by that young man Luce and friends. The Mad Killer 
of Kingsbury Run here reverently given his complete 
title whose capture has been announced and then re- 
tracted to the accompaniment of scandals in the sheriff's 
office and accusations of police brutality, is occasionally 
resurrected by the newspapers during slow days in the 
cold war. (Their most generous theory: that he represents 
a latter-day marriage of Malthus and Robin Hood, ridding 
the community of undesirables. An estimated score thus 
far: twenty-six dismemberments.) 

Another burgeoning garden of culture is the local tele- 
vision industry. It hopes to contribute to the national glory 
of Cleveland by eventually housing network shows. West- 
ern Reserve University has pioneered in teaching logic, 
psychology, and literature to thousands of television view- 
ers, morning meditations on Pavlov's dog being brought 
to Mrs. Northeastern Ohio by a sixteen-inch-high homun- 
culus in a Muntz or General Electric tube. These are 
credit courses. Cleveland College, the downtown branch 
of Western Reserve, has developed an extensive program 
of evening adult classes, offering capsule courses in every- 
thing from Hats & Bonnets to Mann & Gide, with the 
clatter of sewing machines sometimes interrupting the dis- 
cussion which attempts to measure in pounds and ounces 
just fcow much madness is proper to the most efficient 
functioning of an artist. We have enough local "creative 
people/' painters, musicians, sculptors, writers, and disc 
jockeys, to satisfy the need of the women's clubs for free 
luncheon speakers. One novelist claims to have been intro- 
duced to an important lady as "a big man in the Insight 

But perhaps the most ambitious of the dreams in our 
community is the city planner reported to be devoting 
himself to a modern reconstruction of "the Best Location 


in the Nation" after its helter-skelter growth will have been 
corrected by an atom bomb. As a more immediate concern, 
the planners are attempting to reform the lakefront and 
the Cuyahoga River, that freckled, odorous, precociously 
senile stream which led W. K Kelsey, the great journalistic 
advantage which Detroit holds over Cleveland, to wonder 
if perhaps the Cuyahoga does not "begin somewhere as 
a limpid brooklet wandering between lush banks overhung 
with asphodel and floating with those nenuphars that the 
French poets love so well, and if along the line it loses 
its virginity, so that by the time it reaches Cleveland, it's 
just an old trot." The industries and the suburbs which 
use her, however, love her for what she is, a receptacle so 
unprepossessing that even the suicides of Cleveland are 
driven to the drugstore, the locked garage, or other waters. 

Of the seven institutions of higher learning located 
in or near Cleveland, the chief is Western Reserve Uni- 
versity, which sponsored a musical comedy two summers 
ago in order to celebrate a hundred years of progress. Known 
as "The Yale of the Middle West" this slogan is applied 
chiefly during the continuous campaign for endowment 
it can perhaps most fairly be stated of Western Reserve 
that Yale must bow to it in the financing of musical 
comedies. In return, Cleveland's great university should 
be gracious enough to concede the palm to Yale in the area 
of intellectual vivacity. Several of the graduate schools, 
those of medicine and others, deserve their respectable 
national reputations. 

Case Institute, Western Reserve's most steadfast rival 
in football and fund-raising, has celebrated the victories 
of abstraction and officially recognized theoretical physics 
by changing its name from ** of Applied Science" to the 
luxurious " of Technology." Dancing academies, charm 
schools, Diesel institutes, and evanescent colleges offering 
degrees in Your Memory, How to Build It, or Success the 


Himalayan Way all find a clientele hot for inward bet- 

The revival meeting is cultivated with a success which 
depends on the preacher's satisfying the critical standards 
of Cleveland's sophistication in theology. At Lenten time 
last year, a newspaper printed a series of personal credos, 
fine publicity for God, by prominent leaders of business, 
finance, the professions, government, and the long con; 
the tone was one of easy social familiarity they know 
whose side He is on and they developed an image of the 
Almighty as the benevolent cartelist, hedging against in- 
flation but content with nonvoting share in numerous 
healthy American enterprises. Some splendid local ex- 
amples attest to the earthly reward of piety. 

In an effort to relieve us of some of the money with 
which the pockets of Cleveland are heavy, the banks 
swollen, and the mattresses lumpy, a number of industries 
have undergone rapid expansion during tie past ten years. 
(At income-tax time in town each winter, premium prices 
are paid for high-grade woolen socks of the sort with 
reinforced toe and heel in which a roll of fifties can 
safely be tucked, protected by mothball and prayer from 
the assaults of time, beast, conscience, or federal treasury 
agent. A light sleeper is kept awake during the March 
nights by the steady chuck-chuck of his neighbors' spades 
in their back yards.) Clevelanders have tried sex and drink 
and found that, although activities to be recommended in 
their places, they do not spend money fast enough. They 
have tried speculation in real estate and discovered, to their 
dismay, that no matter how risky the speculation, they 
have almost invariably suffered a profit during the past 
fifteen years. The distraught philanthropist who tried scat- 
tering bills of medium denomination from his office window 
was arrested by alert policemen and released to the custody 
of his heirs. Therefore, in response to great civic need, the 
existing brokerage firms have expanded their staffs, opened 


new offices, and invited aid from New York to accom- 
modate the waiting hordes of stock-buyers who seek to 
regain the unencumbered agility of the fine careless days 
of 1932. 

A more general attempt to spend money is represented 
by a proliferation of night clubs which astonishes lifetime 
residents, who remember Cleveland's caf6 society as a 
choice between a Saturday night with goulash and wine 
or the band concerts at the shell in Edgewater Park, the 
lovers' sticky hands united in a box of crackerjack. The first 
settlers of the city converted their grain into liquid form 
for greater profit in the journey eastward. Their insight and 
ingenuity was reflected during the era of the Volstead 
Amendment by many contemporary settlers, now gone 
legit, mellowed by age and gain. Instead of bucking motor 
launches across Lake Erie to Canada, some of them have 
now flowered into a homely maturity and useful contribu- 
tion to community recreation through their association 
with the entertainment business, importing everything from 
trapeze acts to ''risky songs direct from New York and 
Miami Beach." 

Not long ago, a small west-side bar, far from down- 
town, hired Rudy Vallee for a week of the "Whiffenpoof 
Song" and nostalgia about old Yale for the pleasure of the 
neighborhood loungers. "Big names" visit supper clubs 
which used to be satisfied with high-school bands. The kids 
who once made out with a soda and a few nickels for the 
juke box are now in the habit of parking their convertibles 
at Moe's Main Street and investing respectable sums in 
an evening with Johnny Ray ("Mr. Emotion in Person 
NOW"), as he puts his head against the piano, sobs briefly, 
and sings, "Tell the Lady I Said Good-bye." Cleveland 
bobby-soxers, acting under orders from the local deejays, 
mouths agape, deeply moved, marched among the first in 
Johnny Ray's crusade to carry his message to the Paramount 
in faraway and infidel New York. At any rate, with tin 


whistles passe and crackerjack prizes made of paper, the 
band concert has fallen into obsolesence. 

The gentleness and moderation typical of Cleveland 
can be illustrated by a recent incident. The manager of one 
of the night spots, a distinguished bootlegger, racketeer, 
and gambler, was having a heart-to-heart talk with his 
parking-lot attendant In the course of their negotiations, 
which were chiefly devoted to reprimands for joy-riding in 
the automobiles of customers, he expressed himself with 
an eloquence which knocked several teeth through the em- 
ployee's cheek. The latter, perhaps encouraged by job 
mobility in a time of intense business activity, retorted by 
stabbing his ex-boss, who by this time had accepted his 
resignation. Interviewed at the police station, the parking- 
lot attendant, now out of work but not embittered, issued 
the following statement: "I used my little knife because 
I didn't want to cut him bad." 

One of the scenic paths recommended to the tourist 
follows along the Cuyahoga River in the industrial flats. 
By day this area is covered with an acrid pall. By night the 
sky is violet, throbbing and flaring with the reflection from 
the blast furnaces. In this oldest corner of the city, from 
which the nutritive rattlesnake has long since fled, some 
of Cleveland's few poor people cower in shame for their 
lack of initiative and patriotism toward "The Forest City," 
'The Convention City/' "Where Coal and Ore Meet/' 
Nearby streets, named by the first settlers, may startle the 
visitor who finds rusty plaques identifying them as Literary 
Road or College Avenue or Professor Street or Shakespeare 
Avenue. Farther along, at the shoreline of Lake Erie, he 
can look east to the municipal rubbish dump, which 
smolders constantly, and admire the tranquil hobbyists 
who stand studying it and competing to club the rats which 
occasionally emerge. 

On Sunday, however, the stroller will discover in this 


area a calm tribute to America's industrial might. Over- 
head, the traffic sings across a great bridge, and at his feet, 
in the shadows of the bridge, a maze of streets, paths, and 
alleys leads to docks, warehouses, and small machine shops. 
The stain of smoke fades briefly from the urban clouds. 

If he makes his way to the bank of the Cuyahoga, 
which has kept its Indian name, he can find wild sunflowers 
which come six feet out of the muck in September. He 
may even, as did one ftdneur, chance upon a lovely young 
artist rapidly sketching the city's skyline, her mouth in a 
pout, her golden hair shining in the autumn sun, her eyes 
awash with the contemplation of beauty. 

To the sightseer this unexpected vision in a beige 
cashmere sweater came as a wondrous example of an area 
of experience still open to private enterprise. He made his 
way through the brush to surprise her, coming around a 
heap of tin cans and decaying tires with an inquiry which 
united a theme of respectful gallantry to the grace of 
esthetic sensibility: "Excuse me, Miss, are you from the 
Cleveland Institute of Art? The Museum classes, maybe?" 

She was reluctant to discuss her work. In fact, she fled 
with wild shrieks, having been convinced by the newspapers 
that he must have intended assault, purse-snatching, or at 
least what is called "exposing his person." 

He was left with her sketch of the Terminal Tower. 
She seemed to have talent. Like the spirit of Cleveland, 
her talent might develop with greater richness if she were 
more confident of her power, less speedy in the flight with 
money, and yet more adventurous in the exposing of her 
person to the risks of love. 


Haiti: Americans in the Port of Princes 

The little fellow does -what he can; 

the big fellow does -what he -wants. 

Haitian proverb 

you CAN ENTER BY TWO ROUTES. By ship you look away 
from the luxury of a Caribbean cruise to the city spread 
out in a yellow-gray haze along the wide, wide bay a low 
jumble of buildings and the guttering poverty of La Saline 
and the lovely blue mountains rising through the town. 
The first Haitians you meet are elite doctors and port 
officials, sweating primly and stubbornly in clothes made 
for another climate, and the naked boys diving for coins 
from their burned-out log canoes. 

Or you may step from an air-conditioned airplane onto 
a road where the donkeys and peasant women are carrying 
their loads of vegetables or coffee into the market, and 
there you hear the insinuating greeting the mass of Haitians 
offer the tourist: "Geev-me-fiave-cents-Meester." If you 
hold your hand out right back at her, she may laugh and 
join you in the joke. Her mood changing, she prefers 
the conspiracy of shared laughter to an easy nickel. Beg- 
gars here are rarely insistent 



Haiti is surely one of the queerest places on earth. The 
American has little to sustain him at first except a taste 
for exotism. The traditional joys of tourism swimming, 
sunning, running, wenching, and writing letters home 
are required because they at least make contact with a 
familiar world. 

Otherwise it is exile in a Garden of Eden fallen into 
permanent depression. The Republic of Haiti, a small island 
state in the Caribbean Sea, is tropical, mountainous, sea- 
bordered except for the frontier shared with the Dominican 
Republic, and so densely populated that the traveler finds 
it difficut to relieve himself by the side of the road without 
a crowd of peasants materializing out of the brush to ob- 
serve and applaud him. Born of a slave revolt unique in 
history, the chief characteristic of Haiti's career has been 
a nervous alternation between occasional reformers and 
ephemeral tyrants who have used the state as the means 
to personal fortune. While Haiti has succeeded in pro- 
ducing a number of extraordinary men, it has never suc- 
ceeded in developing a stable government serious about 
educating the illiterate masses and consistent in attempt- 
ing to raise the standard of living of a people that is one 
of the poorest and most long-suffering in the world. 

In principle, Haiti is a Negro nation, French in lan- 
guage, Catholic in religion, democratic in government In 
practice, Haiti is a collection of almost four million Negroes 
ruled by a largely mulatto upper class; its business is con- 
trolled by this so-called elite and by foreigners; the people 
speak Creole and except for about eight per cent of the 
population do not understand, read, or write French; 
Catholicism has an ambiguous position among a people 
profoundly rooted in the celebrations of the voudou 
pantheon; the government, under elegantly written laws 
and a model constitution, is democratic in form and a mili- 
tary dictatorship in fact. 

Some of the first leaders of the Haitian slaves against 
their French masters fought earlier at Savannah in the 


American Revolution. The chief motive for rebellion in 
Haiti was the misery of the slaves. However, the genius 
of Toussaint and of the other slave leaders in Port-au- 
Prince was kindled by the same ideas of the Rights of Man 
that illumined the disorders in Paris and Boston in that 

Despite a common parenthood of ideas this can be 
seen in the declarations of independence for the United 
States and Haiti official American policy, often instigated 
by slave-holders, remained for a long time deeply hostile 
to the new black nation which had won its liberty by its 
own efforts against a Napoleon at the height of his power. 
Thomas Jefferson even expressed the fear that the Haitians 
might invade the United States in order to free the slaves. 
Throughout the first hundred years of Haitian independ- 
ence, the United States stayed mainly aloof from the 
affairs of Haiti, which was treated as an untouchable 
among the nations, except to warn away any Europeans 
who seemed to be looking for naval bases in the Caribbean 
Sea. The chief part of Haiti's commerce and international 
intercourse was carried on with France, with which the 
Haitian ruling class preserved sentimental ties despite the 
bitterness of slavery and the bloodbaths of the war for 
freedom. The sons of rich Haitians, perhaps bearing the 
blood of both Norman nobility and Guinean princes in 
their veins, went to school at the Lyce Stanislas and the 
Sorbonne in Paris. 

Then, in 1915, the integration of Haiti into American 
hemispheric affairs began with the military occupation of 
Haiti by American Marines. The public explanation for 
the Occupation involved the revolutionary disorders in 
Port-au-Prince. The Haitian President, Vilbrun Guillaume 
Sam, following a massacre of his political opponents in 
prison, had just been torn to bits by a mob in the street; 
presidents before him had come and gone like the wind, 
poisoned, blown up in their palaces, and regularly removed 


from office by irregular means. The more compelling 
reason for the American Navy's steaming into the harbor 
concerned a debt which the National City Bank of New 
York wanted to make sure would be collected and which 
was, in fact, paid out of the customs receipts. 

A just appraisal of the Occupation, which continued 
until implementation of the Hull-Roosevelt "Good Neigh- 
bor" policy, is not easy to make. Progress, profitable both 
to Haitians and Americans, was achieved in several areas, 
including public health, road-building, fiscal organization, 
etc. At the same time, the fierce individualism of the 
Haitian spirit was affronted by the ineptitudes (and some- 
times worse) of an occupying force which, at least at first, 
chose Southern Marines for duty in Haiti because "they 
know how to deal with darkies/' The sophisticated Paris- 
educated elite, accustomed to being the master in its own 
house, suffered emotional slights; the peasantry suffered 
from the forced labor gangs organized by the Americans 
to build roads this seemed close to the dreaded slavery 
which Haitians have never forgotten. Military force is a 
poor teacher of the democratic process. The Occupation 
closed gracefully, however, and the general Haitian feeling 
toward the American colossus was not an unfriendly one. 

Now, after years of sporadic sentimental efforts to 
relate the Haitian to the French economy, Haiti is per- 
manently fixed as an economic pendant to the United 
States. Its coffee, for example, the chief money crop, is 
finally finding its natural market. Some light on the new 
role of Americans in world affairs may be generated by 
rubbing against some of the questions that occur to an 
American resident in Port-au-Prince: 

How comfortable is Haiti in this necessary joining of 
its own national destiny with a culture which is so pro- 
foundly different from its own? 

Where is the place in Haitian life of the Americans 
residing in Haiti? 


What is it like to be an American in this "tropical 
paradise" which is one of the poorest, most overpopulated, 
most underdeveloped, most primitive nations in the world? 

Every creature in the sea eats people; it is 
the shark which bears the bad name. 

Haitian proverb 

The shadow of the United States over Haiti is a long 
one. It is a protective mantle for the American visitor; he 
feels it the first time he makes a traffic error and is whistled 
down by a cop who then, seeing that he is American, 
waves him on if his victim can walk away. The Haitian 
government charged the United Nations $150 for a baby 
run over and killed by a careless chauffeur. This seemed a 
fortune to the bereaved parents, but to most Americans 
would seem to be really a rather inexpensive baby. The 
famous and immensely moving Haitian hospitality almost 
any peasant will offer coffee to a stranger, and if he needs a 
place for the night, the peasant will put his family outdoors 
and give the traveler his hut is especially tender toward 
Americans. The desire to please can be embarrassing. If 
asked for a direction, the average poor Haitian will always 
answer, even if he does not know the answer. This may 
cause the traveler some confusion, but at least it attests 
to an eagerness to make the American happy. Most 
Haitians will never say no to an American. If an American 
asks a question involving a yes or no answer, he should 
be prepared to figure out from the way the Haitian says 
yes whether he means yes or no. 

On another social level, invitations to the exclusive 
clubs are readily available to the visitor, while nouveaux 
riches Haitians, who may have every personal merit imagin- 
able, are kept waiting until their children make a brilliant 
marriage into a "right" family or otherwise prove them- 
selves with the elite. It is relatively easy for an American 


to be promoted to the highest society, there to play tennis 
or canasta with names that date back to Dessalines' gen- 
erals; a Haitian whose wealth is new, whose skin is dark, 
and whose family is unknown may still be voted down by 
the admission committee of the Cercle Bellevue. (The 
question of skin color is a complicated one which it is 
not my purpose to discuss here. Some upper-class Haitians 
have dark skins; some lower-class Haitians have light skins; 
but nevertheless the chief criteria of class distinction are 
color of skin, slope of nose, twist of hair, and other tests 
of Caucasian blood, despite the fact that everyone is proud 
of his slave ancestors who won freedom from the French.) 

Another sign to the visitor of the special status of the 
United States is the profound impregnation of the Creole 
and French languages of Haiti with Americanisms that set 
on edge the teeth of visiting Frenchmen. The policeman 
yells, "Faites back!" (pronounced "bock") when he means 
"En arriere." The verb for spraying a room with insecticide 
is "flitter," derived from a popular product of Standard 
Oil. The grammar of Creole, modeled on various African 
languages, is more like that of English than like French, 
although most of its vocabulary comes from French. High- 
status words and phrases, such as "Dry Cleaning" and 
"Air Conditioning," are often spoken and written in Eng- 
lish rather than in their French equivalents. 

The Port-au-Prince radio broadcasts singing com- 
mercials for American toothpastes and breakfast cereals in 
Creole; offices, parties, dances, and dinners require clothes 
which are a real burden in the tropics but which give the 
sufferer the badge of French or American culture that 
separates him so visibly from the peasant or laborer; to 
drink visky instead of the excellent native rum is the pin- 
nacle of chic; a common reading of Time or a common 
appreciation of Bing Crosby offers an occasion for com- 
munion with the forces of great power. This respect for 
American achievement is genuine and extends to all 


domains. One of the great primitive painters of Haiti, a 
man of enormous individuality and self-respect, has dec- 
orated his house with his own drawings, with paintings 
and sculpture by his friends, with relics of Catholic and 
voudou religious art, with flowers and plants from his 
neighborhood and, in the place of honor on the wall, a 
full-page photograph of Harold Stassen. He had clipped 
it from Life. The fact that he doesn't know who Harold 
Stassen is makes the tribute still more touching. 

Despite the evidence of favor, the deep ambivalence 
of attitude toward Americans expresses itself in many 
domains. An American has little chance against a Haitian 
in a court of law. The American who seeks to start a busi- 
ness in Haiti without Haitian partners will suffer such 
strange misfortunes as to make him wish he had stood in 
Delaware. An American who makes any slight error, such 
as slipping in the street, will find a crowd enormously 
entertained by his bad luck. They will help him up and dust 
him off if necessary, but their pleasure in the fall from 
dignity of the blanc is unmistakable. Incidentally, the word 
blanc has come to mean simply "foreigner/' so that even 
an American Negro has been referred to as a blanc. 

The world-wide stereotype of the American as a crude 
but efficient engineer is echoed in Haiti, where an educator 
wfll say that Haiti must import its automobiles and tractors 
from the States but its textbooks and "culture" from 
France. Only a younger generation of thoughtful Haitians 
has begun to point out that realities must be faced in a 
society that still allows students to spend their evenings 
outdoors memorizing Racine under streetiamps because 
they do not yet have electricity in their houses. For many 
years French law, art, and manners were painted over the 
realities of Haitian life: America is the turpentine which 
is dissolving this pleasant surface. (Some upper-class 
Haitians have asked the police to chase away the students 
working under streetlamps. They say that it makes a bad 


impression on the tourists.) Many Haitians can compare 
the styles of Bossuet and Racine; not enough can set up 
an electrical circuit In part, at least, this emphasis on 
classical intellectual training, along with a persistent dis- 
dain of technical skills, is an inheritance from the master- 
slave society of the colonial epoch. "You Americans tell 
us to work," the Haitian seems to be declaring, "but we 
are masters now." And the master is a cultured gentleman 
for whom others do the work. "Sweating is a sign of igno- 
rance," the Haitian says. 

As the result, even the servants have servants, and a 
houseboy will use his own money to hire a shoeshine boy 
to clean his employer's shoes. To be a houseboy is to have 
a job of higher status than to be a shoeshine boy. A worker 
promoted to foreman of a gang will not deign to show 
the men under him how to perform a task which he used 
to do every day. The American drive to get the job done 
is foreign to the Haitian way. It is a trait of the American 
character that is both admired and feared. 

Of course, national habit is one matter and individual 
personality another. Every American in Port-au-Prince 
knows a few angry Haitians who defy climate, custom, and 
public pressure in order to arrive at work promptly, become 
emotionally involved with their jobs, and take pleasure 
in accomplishment. But they have a hard time. 

Haitians who are being sent in increasing numbers 
to the States to study often find a wall of prejudice against 
them when they return. The engineers have to open shops, 
the educators work as clerks because they no longer fit into 
the "Haitian way." Columbia and Carnegie Tech may 
replace the Sorbonne in time, but it is the graduate of the 
French schools who wins the respect shown a scholar. One 
agronomist who defended his American hosts was admon- 
ished with the peasant saying: "The fish trusts the water, 
and it is in the water that it is cooked." For many Haitians, 
aware of a history of spite and exploitation and a continu- 


ing race prejudice, the years of suspicion are not over. 
Charlemagne Peralte, who led a rebellion against the Am- 
erican Marines and was crucified against a door, is a popular 

A striking illustration of the overestimation of Amer- 
ican power comes in politics, which is the chief concern 
of life in Port-au-Prince, even more important than love- 
making, except perhaps on Saturday nights. It is generally 
assumed that an American resident is an FBI spy, a jour- 
nalist ready to imagine calumnies about zombies and black 
magic, or an agent sent to do in the current government. 
The most trivial remark of an American resident can have 
political repercussions as it is transmitted by that most 
rapid means of communication, the telejiol or telemouth. 
It is automatically assumed that the American Embassy 
is a control, for bad or for good, on Haitian affairs. The 
opposition to the present one-party government, which of 
necessity must be a revolutionary opposition, is emotionally 
rooted in the hope of American approval; it therefore 
appeals to American democratic processes against the pres- 
ent (and traditional) military dictatorship. During the 
absence of an American ambassador, no opposition news- 
paper was allowed to function. When the Honorable Roy 
Tasco Davis was appointed, two newspapers took courage 
again, and lo! their presses were not burned and their 
editors not beaten or imprisoned. (This situation has been 
modified. On January 8, 1954, the police broke up and 
carried away the printing press and type of Haiti-Demo- 
cratique. A few days later, the editor, the deputy Daniel 
Fignole, together with his printers, associates, and friends, 
was arrested. Last July the other independent newspaper, 
Le Constitutionel, was shut down after the chief of police 
threatened its editor with ''bodily harm/') 

If you tell a Haitian in opposition to the regime of 
General Magloire that the American government is prob- 
ably not interested in encouraging any movement that 


upsets the relative stability of Haitian politics, even though 
it is a one-party stability, you will probably not be believed. 
"What! But what about democracy?" The notion that the 
United States Embassy will exert pressure against an 
undemocratic government is one that does not die despite 
the evidence of contemporary history. In the hopeless 
morass of Haitian politics, many otherwise intelligent 
people cling to the dream of magical American interven- 
tion: those who hope for it and those who fear it both 
believe in it. 

An example of the exaggerated esteem in which the 
American is held can be taken from a personal experience. 
As recipient of a fellowship in order to study Haitian 
institutions, I was interviewed by a number of journalists 
in Port-au-Prince. In one newspaper I was quoted as having 
cited Montaigne's remark that "all culture comes from the 
people." A-ha! It was immediately "telemouthed" that the 
visitor had put himself on the side of "the people" against 
"the regime," that he represented official American policy, 
and that he was a paid "fomenter." I was warned that 
further statements of this sort would result in my being 
expelled from Haiti. 

A curious sidelight is that, while the citation from 
Montaigne is an unexceptional remark with which I can 
agree, it was never spoken during the interview. The 
journalist, playing on the exacerbated subtlety of the read- 
ers of a subsidized press, put the phrase in my mouth for 
reasons of his own. 

Another American resident, writing in a local news- 
paper that fear is an obstacle to human progress, created a 
sensation among Haitians who took this to mean that they 
should not be afraid of trying to overthrow the government. 
The process of logic is impressive: Fear makes us obey. An 
American says that fear is bad. Ergo, the secret policy of 
the State Department is to help us overthrow the govern- 
ment of Haiti. 


In a culture which Edith Efron Bogat, an American 
journalist resident in Haiti, has described as suspicious 
almost to the point of paranoia, the American is now 
perched among the heroes of the national fantasy life. He 
represents wealth, beauty, power over God's atomic earth, 
and the mobility of achievement He may be loved; he 
may be feared; he may be loved and feared at the same 
time. He is never ignored. As the Haitians say, "All that 
you do not know is greater than you." 

During my first days in Haiti, I got lost in the maze 
of unmarked streets near my house. I stopped and asked 
for my street by name. No one knew it. Then I asked 
where the new white man in the neighborhood lived, and 
I was led home immediately by people who had, appar- 
ently, never seen me before. 

You cannot sleep on a mat and then 
speak evil of it 

Haitian proverb 

Americans in Haiti are not just individual human beings; 
they are even more than ''ambassadors." They are a focus 
for envy, aspiration, and the mysteries of power. A Miami 
floozy can turn the heads of men married to the most 
charming Haitian beauties. A state senator down for a 
quick suntan becames a representative of American author- 
ity, deserving receptions, dinners, and an exchange of 
fountain pens with the President A buyer for the notion 
counter of a department store is a gros commergdnt and 
the pale literary cowboy who turns out Western stories at 
two cents a word is feared and buttered up as a grand 
6cnvain de notre amicdL voisin nord-am6ricctin. 

How do Americans function in this tender situation? 

The thousand or so American residents, mostly located 
in the capital, fall into several fairly distinct categories. 

First, there are the commercial and diplomatic resi- 


dents who, in general, lead the familiar life of American 
officialdom abroad. They are assigned to a job; they do it; 
then they go home. Their contact with Haiti is kept to a 
minimum. The American country club has recently ad- 
mitted its first Haitian members, but the usual social life 
of these Americans is one of ping pong and poker, sewing 
bees and bazaars, and as little contact with Haitians outside 
the work day as possible. Of course, the avoidance of rela- 
tionship is a kind of relationship. Haitians suspect race 
prejudice as the reason for this isolation, and it surely does 
nothing to improve feeling between the two peoples, but 
it can be said in defense of these Americans that their 
behavior is not exceptional: American businessmen and 
diplomats live like this all over the world. Their children 
may learn Creole from the servants, but the mysteries of 
Haiti voudou, the rich folk culture, the complex meeting 
of French and African ways of life, the bitter fret of Haitian 
aspiration and Haitian misery are foreign to them. They 
solve the problems of living in Haiti by not really living 

Then there is a small number of former Marines and 
American Navy men who stayed on to settle after the 
Occupation. These men, usually marrying on the island 
and otherwise "Haitianizing" themselves, are perhaps the 
most secure of the foreigners. One, the former medic who 
now calls himself "Doctor" Reiser, is a muscular and 
energetic grandfather with a career as drummer, painter, 
leaf doctor, and voudou initiate; for a time he directed 
the local insane asylum; he has exhibited considerable 
histrionic skill and attained some financial success in nurs- 
ing his legend, a variation on the white-voodoo-doctor 
theme. Others, less spactacular than Doc Reiser, have found 
their levels in Haitian society and are living out their lives 
and rearing their children as the Haitians do. 

Another curious group includes the American women 
who have married Haitians. Living in a Negro republic 


does not solve the problem of high feeling against inter- 
marriage. These women have families, friends, and their 
own pasts abroad: they cannot sever all contact. Besides, 
Haiti has its own home-grown variety of race prejudice. 
What can the American woman say when her husband 
forbids their coffee-colored children to play with the black 
children next door? Rearing children with a Haitian partner 
creates problems which marrying an American Negro does 
not involve: in Haiti the American is marrying into a cul- 
ture which is deeply alien to American ways. Because of 
all the obstacles, most of the American women who marry 
Haitians are iconoclastic characters with powerful urges 
towards individual assertions of personality. They are also 
often the envy of their American friends, as they generally 
find husbands with special attributes of capacity, hand- 
someness, and fortune. The Haitian upper class which is 
interested in whitening its children's skins is an elite of 
considerable charm and drive. 

A small group of Americans, living in a no-man's-land 
between Haitian and American life in Haiti, includes the 
bohemians attracted by the sun, sea, glamour, and cheap 
rum. They generally do not stay long. The complexities of 
life in a culture which is African and French at the same 
time, and difficult to penetrate, usually send them back to 
the more familiar climes of Mexico or Paris. Haiti is weird 
and magical and very primitive; these attributes, while 
potential tourist attractions, are not yet ready to be assim- 
ilated by the typical American cheap-liver abroad. The 
artists of Haiti do not have a tradition of discourse; they 
are not great caf6 talkers. An obstacle to the male in search 
of passing adventure is the rigid upper-class moral code. 
The Creole maidens are lovely, but their fathers are all 
crack shots. Gossip is rapid and lethal. 

More than in most places in the world, the American 
in Haiti is held off from sharing the life of the people. He 
is isolated by color, language, religion, habits, and standards, 


and by the economic prodigy which puts almost any Amer- 
ican automatically in a lonely eminence at the top of a 
feudal structure. Poverty is bad for the rich, too. But sus- 
tained good will is rewarded by good friends, and even 
power has its compensations. The prestige of America 
focuses an exaggerated attention, sometimes hopeful, 
sometimes suspicious, on the actions of individual Amer- 
icans. The American lives in Haiti as an honored guest, a 
too-much-honored guest whose slightest mistake can be 
disillusioning to his hosts. It is in many ways a high and 
intense way to live. 

The problem of the American separated from his own 
culture is similar all over the world. Of course, he forgets 
about Arthur Godfrey and loses track of Walter Winchell; 
he takes his ease from television and the New York 
Yankees. Haitian art, literature, music, and dance are 
based on rich traditions and can show the interested out- 
sider some luminous modern developments. The experi- 
ence of living in Haiti, while exotic, is one with the life of 
human beings everywhere. The specific emphases of 
Haitian ways provide a sharp perspective on American ex- 

However, the long-time American resident also runs 
the risk of reducing the possibility of a meaningful involve- 
ment in the life of his own society, of moving off, of becom- 
ing distant from himself. An air of inefficacy and vague- 
ness in the expatriate is familiar to travelers everywhere. 

The accusation of authority may make a mediocre man 
strive to live up to the expectations that surround him: 
dignity is contagious. Or he may take a peculiar pleasure 
in selling his clothes and being picked up drunk and naked 
in a gutter: responsibility is threatening. Both types of 
behavior occur. For Americans, life in tropical Port-au- 
Prince seems to produce an accelerated development of 
character in the direction of either the sick softness of a 
fallen mango or of a firm and sunny self-realization. Haiti 


is difficult for foreigners. Each difficulty presents an option. 
These options seem to be put forward more strictly than 
elsewhere in the streets, offices, homes, plantations, and 
social occasions of Haiti. 

Nevertheless, the brilliant contrasts and powerful feel- 
ings animating Haitian life suggest the possibility of a 
healthful stimulus. It should be easy to keep the emotions 
awake and not just at the level of a dilettante in exotism. 
The proud individuality of all Haitians is a lesson in human 
dignity amid conditions of material misery. While the 
average per capita income is estimated at less than thirty- 
five dollars a year, the Haitian remains a lively and sympa- 
thetic person, despite the occasion for deceit and craft which 
must also be assimilated by the stranger. The Haitian's 
fears are enormous and his problems intense; his urge to 
life is joyful, angry, and energetic. His energy is expressed 
more creatively at play and at talk than at work in a society 
in which the conventional rewards of work are difficult to 
attain. The possibilities of men cooperating in order both 
to fulfill some common design and to gain individual bene- 
fits await the evolution of a society which can properly 
assimilate intelligent labor. Try to build a house in Haiti, 
for example. Men who live in mud huts, and who live 
without the hope of ever having anything but a mud hut, 
cannot be expected to make doors fit and walls perpendic- 
ular. Why should they be interested? Children who grow 
up without machines or mechanical construction of any 
sort in the household will never develop the concept of the 
straight line or the right angle. 

The stick that beats the black dog 
can beat the -white dog too. 

Haitian proverb 

France and Italy have had a society which rewarded 
labor and, at least temporarily, find their world unhappily 


diminished; Haiti has never had this level of civilization. 
The situation for the American visitor in all these places is 
similar, but with important differences in esteem and ex- 
pectation. Being rich in population and resources, relatively 
immune to inflation and foreign manipulation, less scarred 
by war or internal conflict, and blessed by a continuity of 
government, America still offers a personal future to work 
done by the individual. This gift has been lost in many 
advanced societies; it has not been achieved in Haiti. The 
Haitian knows it; the American knows it. Their knowledge 
is a continual unspoken communication between them. It 
makes for a sort of hope and understanding: and it makes 
for a bitterness and unease. The troubles of pride are the 
most dangerous ones. 

Both stubborn and yielding, tense and sleepy, heavy 
with pride and drenched in shame, the paradoxical Haitian 
character is a challenge to the American willing to par- 
ticipate in Haitian life. The fact of his being overvalued 
as an American may give him a special resonance of sense 
for others and of responsibility to his own capacity. As long 
as he remains in Haiti, he is addressed by martial music: 
Be as important as Haitians want and fear you to be! It is 
an expectation from others and from himself which may 
urge him to return to the possibilities of American life with 
a new awareness. 

Finally, because of the special sin of American history, 
it is instructive for Americans to live in a culture in which 
the statesmen and diplomats, the brilliant educators and 
the artists, the agronomists and the engineers, and most 
of the rich businessmen are colored. The white man is the 
stranger, the interloper. He may be an honored guest, but 
he is only a tolerated guest all the same. He will see in 
action the liberal truism that, despite differences in condi- 
tion, all peoples face similar problems with the same re- 
sources in character. 


Reno: The Great Divide 

WOMEN ARE PURPOSEFUL IN RENO. The lovely blonde crit- 
ter strolling the lobby of the Hotel Mapes, with a mole on 
her cheek accented by make-up as if she were Alice Faye 
miraculously preserved into 1961, did not come all the way 
to Reno in order to stake out uranium claims. She did not 
pack her kit bag to examine the pelicans and fossils of 
Pyramid Lake, where, during more idyllic days, Arthur 
Miller and Marilyn Monroe quietly strolled and waited for 
legal technicalities to be arranged. Nor is she a cultural 
anthropologist studying the Paiute Indians or the sheep- 
herding Basques who gather at the Santa Fe Hotel in down- 
town Reno to eat and drink in French, Spanish, and Basque. 
She may sample all these incidental lures, but primarily 
she has come to Reno for one of two purposes: either to 
gamble (and also to find a man) or to shed a man (and 
also to gamble). When she pauses in her slow amble across 
the lobby, straightening her stocking she bends and 
harkenl we have time to examine her third finger, left 

We find the circle of the abandoned wedding ring, 


sunburned a bright red. She is a member of the Six Week 
Club. She is a joyous Jill ? with her tanned face hit by a 
vision of the good life, her rump constricted by her new 
magenta Western pants and poutingly pressing for freedom. 
She wears heavy Indian jewelry and the stunned, goofy 
look of imminent divorce. She is in the molting phase, 
resentful but cute, ready for fun and making with rotating 
eyes. There are lots of women. They are waiting and bored, 
waiting and anxious, waiting and numerous. 

Perhaps she is even one of the ladies who follow the 
apocryphal tradition of dropping her wedding band into 
the Truckee River near the Washoe County Courthouse, 
but more likely, our friend in the lobby of the Mapes has 
pawned her slender gold band in order to increase her capital 
at the gaming tables. Reno visitors are idealists and prac- 
tical; people of action and people who wait. They have 
come to Reno after much deep thought, quiet analysis, 
and broken crockery. Now they busy themselves with mak- 
ing the most of their decision. 

Helping them in this task is a permanent cadre com- 
posed of several types of specialized workers, including 
lawyers, gamblers, and a local brand of cowboy who is not 
often home, home on the range. There are other classical 
Reno types, including the obedient judges (trained to say 
"Granted" without hesitation), landladies, and ranch pro- 
prietors (trained to bear witness to the continuous residence 
of the plaintiffs in divorce actions), laborers all in the vine- 
yard of marital afterthought. 

Reno, "The Biggest Little City in the World," has 
constituted itself the Great American Divide a man from 
his money, a wife from her husband. Lady Luck and Legal 
Liberty. There is also sex. In Reno, this is slightly more 
complicated than buying a drink in a saloon, but if you 
wait about five minutes, and smile, or scowl, or do some- 
thing, anything, someone will surely come along. 


A few years ago, they closed the Stockade, Reno's alley 
of legalized prostitution, but that was not a very lively 
place anyway. It was guarded by a policeman and the girls 
behaved as dully as minor bureaucrats. You transacted your 
business without shilly-shallying and then skedaddled, 
making room for the next in line a little like getting a 
haircut or paying a parking ticket. Other towns in Nevada 
still exercise local option on the matter of commercial sack- 
play, and in Reno many fine citizens fought the passing 
of the Stockade. They felt that this was a step away from 
the right to free assembly guaranteed by the Constitution. 
It also put their innercent dotters in terrible danger from 
desert rats and those crazed tourists from San Francisco 
and the East. It abolished a reliable money-making and tax- 
paying business. But what with a steady influx of divorce- 
seekers, plus the legion of cooperative ladies who patrol 
the lobbies of the hotels, the passing of the old Stockade 
deprived only the most boorishly impatient and the most 
stubborn admirers of Nevada frontier tradition. 

In all fairness to Reno's hospitality, it must be insisted 
that divorce, gambling, drinking and sex do not provide 
a complete summary of its services to the visitor. There is 
also marriage. Five times as many marriages as divorces are 
performed along the banks of the Truckee. Of course, these 
marriages have a tendency to return to Reno a few years 
later in the form of divorces; but still, the Park Wedding 
Chapel, festooned in neon ("Ring Bell for Service at Any 
Hour"), is the scene of a rapid marital drone and con- 
gratulation. The children of such marriages turn out to be 
complex creatures, often with curiously interrelated parents. 
("My previous stepfather's brother was the uncle of my 
present stepfather's second wife . . .") 

"We're not backward," declared one proud Reno 
cosmopolite, "we've got our Beat Generation, too, and 
it's doing a production of Guys and Dolls.' 9 The cast meets 
after rehearsals at The in, spelled with a lower-case (or 


hungry) "i," where a little group discusses Samuel Beckett 
and Sam Cooke; Kafka and Sinatra. Reno is perhaps the 
unhippest and zippiest town in all the fifty states. The 
women, clicked silly by the keno tabulator, puffy from grief 
and alcohol, play femme jatde in the gambling clubs, with 
shades jutting out over their sunglasses. This is the promis- 
sory land where the oppressed are liberated and the hopeful 
stream by on South Virginia Street. The chippies compete 
with the divorcettes in all the clubs, casinos, and hotel 

Our lady of the Mapes is called a divorcette in Reno. 
She is a prospective divorcee. She is still legally bound to a 
man hereinafter referred to as Defendant. Defendant has a 
job someplace and sends her money. She is a Permanent 
Resident, which is not to be confused with an Old In- 
habitant. A Permanent Resident is someone in the final 
convulsions of marriage who plans to stay for six weeks and 
a day, and can prove it with witnesses. (Appropriately 
enough, Reno was named after a General Reno, killed in 
the Civil War back East, who never once set foot in 
Nevacja. The founding fathers were looking for a convenient 
short name and drew the General's out of a Stetson. A prac- 
tical, unsentimental people.) 

Mrs. Permanent Resident may pass her six weeks weep- 
ing her eyes out, or she may spend her time in a patio dis- 
cussing philosophy with other Permanent Residents. 
( "Beneath that rough exterior, girls, beats the heart of a 
wife-beater"), or she may hit tiie slots or the tables or the 
bars, or she may shyly peek around for a cowboy or a fresh 
future Defendant. Itchily she seeks to revenge herself on 
the flunkout back home in Chicago or New York. She is 
the made-to-order prey for the opportunists, con men, and 
brutal rancheros who hang around Reno. She blinks her eyes 
into cool desert space as they park the Hertz car off one 
of the roads winding into the vacant hills. Sliding across the 


seat, she murmurs, "Oh, Mr. WhatVYour-Name, he was 
so mean to me/' Bright desert stars wink above them. 

"Call me Slim/' says the wrangler, and takes a firm 
hold. A new groom sweeps clean. 

The specialized Reno cowboy is a local representative 
of one of the most curious professions in contemporary 
America. He is known in all the great centers; his grand- 
daddy, the gigolo, wore evening attire and a silken mus- 
tache; his unacknowledged ancestor was the simpering 
Greek Ganymede. Now, in New York and other urban cen- 
ters, he may occupy himself with tennis or modeling or 
claim to be an actor while he waits to be chosen by some 
joy-hunting, moneyed lady. In Reno he manifests himself 
as a dude cowboy, based on a ranch, watching the air 
terminal, scouting in the better bars and gambling clubs. 

Slim is a subtle, part-male creature who probably has 
not wrangled a four-legged cow since Reno last housed a 
WCTU convention. He is a shill of love, faking high 
stakes of passion for a small profit, just as a gambling shill 
pretends to gamble in order to make the house look sharp 
and busy. A skinny chap in chaps and a duckass haircut, 
he keeps busy holding hands with the blue-haired, fifty- 
year-old lady in the TV room of the Holiday Motel; the 
Trap has gleaming white teeth and the Victim has a sub- 
scription to The Wall Street Journd; they will make 
beautiful moolah together, he hopes. 

Like other professional dude cowhands, Slim dwells 
in a series of six-week liaisons, looking always for the Big 
Strike the woman who will either take him home in order 
to goad Defendant or perhaps will move her bank account 
to sunny, tax-free Nevada. When he uses rodeo language, 
he is thinking of stock on the wobbly high heel. A "re- 
run" is a cow that has been tuckered out by much use, 
"generally easier to wrestle and tie." "Snuffy" describes 
stock that is wild, ready to go. A "twister" is himself a 
cow twister, suffering from scaly elbows and nocturnal pre- 


In sad fact, he is not a happy wrangler. He sits with 
his aging broad, his water-slicked hair growing low down 
his neck, his creased, tended tan, his bland, pleased, angry, 
hurt, princely, bored clasp of lips; he turns his ankle anxi- 
ously in its fancy-worked Western boot. It is costly after 
all, making out this way. Hard to give up joy in sex and 
work; it's hard to give up being human. "But what is man," 
his neurotic ankle seems to ask, quoting Scripture in its 
dismay of soul, "that thou art mindful of him?" 

"Nothing doing," answers the silence between his ears, 
the creak of his leather. 

Cool, professional, a freckled desert hipster, he is tired 
and wants to go to bed, but there is no mama to cradle 
him, only this rich bitch whose particular mattress needs he 
tries to predict as they watch the Jack Paar show together. 
Well, maybe he is neither man nor woman, but our bored 
buckaroo with his corseted prey is in business, and doing 
pretty well. 

There are fine hotels in Reno, the Riverside, the 
Mapes, and the usual glorious motels with swimming pools 
and round-the-clock boozing. There are also the guest 
"ranches" (a horse or two) or houses that cater to eco- 
nomical divorcettes. "Bonny Bode Inn Divorcees Wel- 
come," hints the newspaper advertisement; "Join the Happy 
Crowd at Harmony House," another chimes in winsomely; 
"Liberty Rooms Free Coffee At Any Hour Make Your 
Stay a Memorable One." 

The proprietors of these permanent residences for 
permanent six-week residents also serve as cheer-mongers to 
the sad, introducers for the solitary, and witnesses in court 
to swear that the plaintiff was really there for six weeks. 
(Efforts to shorten the time of legal residence are met by 
the practical objection that Reno needs the money spent 
here in ransom after matrimonial jags; conversely, greedy 
ideas about lengthening the stay are met by prudent com- 


mercial warnings of the threat from sordid, rapid Alabama 
and immoral, speedy Mexico.) 

Life in these guest houses generally follows a simple, 
healthful routine. The marital convalescents share place at 
table, space in the laundry room, and stories about the rat, 
jackal, hoot owl, dog, porcupine, hyena, or stercoricolous 
beetle in Washington, D.C., or San Francisco, Dallas, 
Bangor, or wherever. Nevada law in its majesty almost 
always agrees that the One Back Home is some sort of 
jungle beastie; those in Reno, men and women, are wronged 
angels. Many a joyous conversation in a Guest House patio, 
concerns ways to settle his/her hash, which badly needs 
settling. For current news of what he/she is up to, you 
can always get word from detective agencies or crystal ball 
snoops who do a thriving business: 

PHYCHIC RUTH Card Reader and Counselor 17th 
Successful Year in Reno. $3.00. "Phychic" is probably a 
combination word, meaning fidgety and fishy, and it char- 
acterizes the stories to which poor, long-suffering, three- 
dollar Ruth has had to lend an ear. "My husband, listen, 
he used to . . ." "That wife of mine, by God, I wanted 
to . . ." 

Some, of course, have untraceable spouses who, for all 
they know, might be working for the Post Office; she lies 
dead in a schoolteacher's closet in Tulsa; he is producing 
a movie entitled Teenagers at the SEATO Conference; 
Phychic Ruth cannot see him clear. He has disappeared 
from the ken of mortal and gypsy, and will be symbolically 
reached only by that final invocation published in a legal 

The State of Nevada sends you greetings! Not having 
cohabited with the plaintiff , . . 

And hell never know what was said about him before 
the Reno judge. The judge probably won't know, either. 
He has heard too many stories that all have the same end- 


ing. He turns off the hearing aid and pores over his copy 
of Poker a Gentleman's Pastime. 

The garrulous camaraderie of the boarding house gives 
wounds a chance to heal under the gentle urging of that 
famous law misery loves company of the opposite sex. 
One should always describe one's trouble to those who 
cannot check for accuracy; sympathy begets sympathy in 
return; and listen, pal, it sure is good to get away after what 
I been through. "I know, I know, and how about making 
a tour of the clubs?" 

There are plenty of shaky stomachs and trembling 
lower lips, plenty of secret tears in narrow beds, but there 
is also the lovely resilient chick who comments, "I learned 
a great deal from my marriage. I don't regret anything. I 
learned how to give big parties and how to keep the maid 
from stealing." . 

Most things that you do furtively in other places you 
can do without shame in Reno. This is to Reno's credit; 
honesty is one of the good policies. The popular acceptance 
of gambling is indicated by a recent debate in the City 
Council. Should the city get out of the slot machine busi- 
ness at the Municipal Airport? Of course. Why? Declared 
the mayor: "We don't want to compete with private 

The private enterprise includes Harold's Club (in 
addition to The Nevada, The Golden, Harrah's Club,, and 
other secondary institutions), a giant seven-floor depart- 
ment store of luck, with blackjack, craps, roulette and eight 
hundred slot machines grinding up money twenty-four 
hours a day. The customers pull, wait, and stare like the 
distraught heroes of horror movies who look at their mon- 
ster and say, "I think it's trying to tell us something." (It 
is trying to tell them: "The grind is against you, buddy 
bell, cherry, and orange/') Some slots are "humanized," 
being built into gorgeous female bodies, with the coins, 


when you hit, emerging from a dismally appropriate place. 

"We build slot machines/ 7 stated one manufacturer, 
"but we don't build machines to force people to play/' Never- 
theless, the mechanism seems to be built into most of us. 
Jean-Paul Sartre once committed a famous remark: "Hell 
is other people." This is an easy epigram, since any defini- 
tion of hell with such an outrageous and dogmatic format 
will take us by surprise and sound briefly, pretentiously 
true. For example: Hell is oneself; Hell is nobody. But 
those hip-to-hip rows of cattle before the slot machines, 
blind to anything but the rolling fruit, suggest some par- 
ticular dramatic sense to the French philosopher's remark. 
Hell is other people playing slot machines. 

This repetitive, ritualistic, manual game recalls fan- 
tasies in which the child defies logic he is all-powerful; 
he controls his fate simply by force of will. (Dylan Thomas 
made fun of this primitive dream when he wrote about a 
rocky transatlantic flight, "Only my iron will will keep the 
great bird aloft") The gambler's iron will commands a 
jackpot when he wants it right now and refuses to admit 
failure until he wakes from his dreams of omnipotence to 
find his pockets empty. Perhaps while we are walking on 
these psychological waters there is another factor at 
work: in his heart of hearts the gambler wants to lose, a 
stubborn guilty child asking to be punished for trying to 
stand outside the laws of chance. 

One of the saddest, most instructive sights in the 
world is that of a gambling creep shuffling out of a room 
on South Virginia Street and over to the Western Union 
office on Center Street, there to mouth his stub of pencil 
and try to transform himself into a poet with a new way 
of saying SEND MONEY QUICK. Going from club to club you 
see the System Players, clutching their notebooks, grinning 
hard, with harassed eyes and chewed lips, sure that next 
time the laws of statistics, which they have invented, will 
take hold. Next time. 


The Smith family, owners of Harold's Club, are re- 
spected leaders of community life in Reno. They endow 
concerts and the Harold's Club Scholarships at the Uni- 
versity of Nevada. (One condition: The Scholar must not 
cross the threshold of Harold's Club during his college 
enrollment.) Legalized gambling is an important industry. 
The high desert skies are clear of industrial smoke; the 
fume and fuss of gambling leave little mark on the Nevada 

Reno and environs display a distinct physical charm 
and diversity of terrain. Besides the gambling/divorcing 
Reno, there is also the typical Western town in which 
people live much as they do in a thousand similar places, 
blessed by lovely homes and mortgages, spacious lawns and 
chickweed, happy youngsters thronging to school, church, 
and dragstrip. This ignored Reno boasts magnificent sur- 
rounding mountains, the snow-fed Truckee making green 
the center of the city, skiing in winter and healthful dry 
desert air in summer plus the University of Nevada, 
"finest institution of higher learning in the state." (It is 
also the only institution of higher learning in the state.) 

But it is not for these advantages in culture and 
climate that Reno is so much better known than, say, 
Ottumwa, Iowa, or Bellingham, Washington, both towns 
of comparable size. Reno is a rambunctious, brawling 
Mickey Rooney among cities. The workaday Reno grudg- 
ingly harbors its wild, permissive twin, without which, of 
course, any renowned Reno at all would be impossible. 
The two Renos are joined by common elements of the 
picturesque and the bizarre: the traditional rodeo, the 
splendors of desert sage and mountain pine, the romantic 
outcroppings of silver-bearing rock in nearby, antique Vir- 
ginia City, where ragtime is the rule, the hot mineral 
springs for swimming, the general morality of No Speed 
Limit in Nevada. 


The true churchly, cultural Reno, of which some old 
residents defensively prattle, also has some basis in fact, 
once you leave Virginia Street (the major casinos), Com- 
mercial Row (pawn shops, Indian bars, prodding police- 
men), and Lake Street (Chinese and Negro gambling 
clubs Reno is covertly Jim Crow). But it's hard to keep 
the wistful visitor in church once he has found the Mint 
Club, where Rosemarie has been Held Over by Popular 
Demand and by popular demand she holds it over the 
drinkers at the bar on which she prances. The place of the 
great rose window of the cathedral of Notre Dame is taken 
by the grandiose outdoor mural of an Indian massacre 
which is the entrance to Harold's Club, the dominating 
structure in town. 

Over this cathedral of chance shines a beacon; within 
it the multitude throngs. The slot machines whir, the 
process servers knock, the courts do their work. A woman 
sniffles, a woman laughs, a dude moves in. Someone asks 
for change of a paper twenty in silver dollars. A spur 
jangles. Six weeks begin for someone; six weeks are over 
for another. 


Greenwich Village: 
The Changing Village 

ON A DUSTY TABLE in the back room of a Greenwich Village 
antique shop lies an etching that pictures a mighty stand 
of oak being cleared to make way for the construction of 
a cabin. A few disconsolate figures, their heads bowed, 
mourn the vile encroachment of the metropolis. The title 
of the etching is The End of Greenwich Village and the 
date on it is 1859. 

Greenwich Village ended, then, more than a hundred 
years ago. The crooked lanes of "Grenege," the Green 
Village, where small landholders grew tobacco aqd whence 
large landholders fled to avoid creditors, were beJng joined 
to the busy geometrical grid of Manhattan. "This pleasant 
and salubrious corner/' this ancient Dutch settlement of 
Greenwijk which had appeared on maps as early as 1645, 
was dying. 

It has been "dying" ever since, regularly. Each gener- 
ation, the Village has had its Cassandras to cry its coming 
doom, and the present generation is no exception. The 
truth, of course, is that Greenwich Village is no longer 

- 193 - 


as it was and never has been. A living organism, not a fossil, 
its restless change is the constant proof of its vitality. 
Today the Village remains an essential element not merely 
of the New York scene but of America's long love affair 
with the twin mistresses Freedom and Rebellion. 

The importance of the Village as actual place and 
symbol of change and experiment in America is demon- 
strated by the pathetic letter sent off by a Village wife, 
Mrs. Melville, to her mother: "Herman has taken to 
writing poetry. You need not tell anyone, for you know how 
such things get around." 

The rumor did get around, alas for Herman, whose 
spouse passionately desired that he spend his time gainfully 
writing serial stories about whaling; Mrs. Melville bowed 
her head with oh! the shame of it, that her beloved Herman 
lay on his couch all morning, deceiving her with a muse; 
eventually Herman hired himself out as a salaried em- 
ployee. But there has always been this small throbbing 
ventricle in the busy heart of New York where the poet 
might know honor and where the real shame for a wife 
would come if Herman stopped writing poetry. For all 
these years now, the inventors, composers, painters, poets, 
playwrights, and the various would-be and might-be 
geniuses have eventually floated upstream until they came 
to rest, at least briefly, in Greenwich Village, U.S.A. 

They have sometimes been as respectable as Henry 
James, who later turned into a wooden-nosed Englishman, 
and sometimes as disreputable as Joe Gould, the shaggy 
Harvard-graduate hobo, author of the endless and unpub- 
lished Ord History of the World, a grinning gnome who 
lived on free cafeteria ketchup and national publicity, both 
of which are packed with vitamins and minerals. The 
geniuses have found inspiration in a certain lounging ease 
of life among an all-American stew of Italians, Irish, 
Chinese, and Jews who lived in and around the Village 
simply because it was their neighborhood. As dogs have 


fleas, so the geniuses also found comfort in the hectoring 
company of the gaffers, cadgers, sexual experimenters, poli- 
tical evangels, and the doddering remnants of elegance near 
Washington Square and Fifth Avenue. 

At its earliest beginnings, the Village was a trading 
post where Canarsie Indians bargained over hides with the 
Dutch settlers; there were springs of fresh water on Spring 
Street, and Minetta Brook wound along Minetta Lane, and 
wolves, panthers, moose, wild turkeys, and heath hens 
inaugurated a tradition of good hunting which is carried on 
now only by the Continental-clad wolves who prowl the 
still-crooked streets of Minetta and Spring and the rest 
of the drained, lit^ built-up and leveled-down Village of 
today. In those antique times, besides the Dutch and 
Indians, there came some English, some French Walloons, 
some Jews (a tiny pre-Revolutionary Portuguese Hebrew 
cemetery still slices into the barrage of real estate on 
Eleventh Street near Sixth Avenue); a number of Negro 
freedmen and escaped slaves took their best hold on liberty 
in the Village, and according to some authorities, a few 
Spanish pirates dropped their eye patches into the bound- 
ing main and retired to Perry Street. (Do they now model 
Hathaway Shirts? And is there really any buried treasure? 
Might be, beneath the pipes and cables and sewers and 
foundations upon foundations.) 

All this began when the Green Village was a tidy little 
settlement insulated from the Manhattan colony, thanks 
to swamp, salt marsh, forest, and cripple bush. Gradually 
the wild berries and nuts disappeared (later to reappear 
in health stores on Eighth Street, along with queen bee 
jelly and wheat germ); the English installed tobacco 
plantations; Sir Peter Warren owned almost the whole 
caboodle. He died in 1752, "removed by the Almighty from 
a place of Honour to an eternity of Happiness/' and his 
various heirs began the continuous process of bickering 
and speculating, dividing and subdividing. On rainy nights 


bearded duffers wanned their backsides by the fire and 
grieved over the good old days of the Village. 

Soon the skirmishes of 1776 came close; Aaron Burr 
galloped through the meadow where the Fifth Avenue bus 
turns around; history advanced. But advance as history 
must, New York City could never quite digest this winding 
knot of exception on its favorite island; Manhattan swal- 
lowed it down, it swallowed it up, but Greenwich Village 
would not be dissolved, straightened, tamed, numbed, or 
numbered. And when it allowed itself partly to be num- 
bered, it produced such examples of arithmetical chaos as 
an intersection of Fourth and Tenth Streets a tribute 
to the old times of Indian trails, when "parallel" and 
"perpendicular" meant as little as "pension" and "job 
security" to the true Villager of today. The surveyors who 
laid out the map of Greenwich Village had irrigated their 
wits with birchbark wine. 

That allegedly parallel streets should meet and cross 
perhaps helps to explain why Washington Irving, James 
Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe came to the Village 
in the early and middle nineteenth century; West Tenth 
Street and West Fourth Street persisted in meeting and 
crossing, an assignation which must be a love match since 
it is the despair of logical minds, and so Ada Clare (author 
of "the most beautiful poems in the language," according 
to the New York Atlas) , also came to smoke ( ! ) , drink ( ! ) , 
and talk impertinently with men neither her father, 
brother, nor husband ( ! ) . Artistic types like dear Ada, who 
somehow had a child without being married (due to too 
much smoking, drinking, and conversation), and Henry 
Clapp, who found in Greenwich Village the gabled houses 
and the charm of Paris, began to gather the noise of 
nineteenth-century art about their organizing spirits. Walt 
Whitman toured the streets with crumbs for the birds on 
his shoulders ("All the critters come to me," he said); 
Mark Twain, rescued from bankruptcy by a lecture tour, 


lived at 14 West Tenth Street and then, perhaps trying 
to escape that maddening intersection with Fourth Street, 
moved to 21 Fifth Avenue. Here he took the courage to 
write blasphemous books which were published only after 
his death. 

There were the famous from all over the world, like 
John Masefield, or later, like Maxim Gorki, who had a 
secretary with whom he was not allowed to register in his 
hotel because he admitted freely that they took dictation 
together. There were also the generous, like Luke O'Con- 
nor, in whose tavern almost anyone could cash a check. 
Luke's place came to be known as "The Working Girl's 
Home" because a girl could enjoy a quiet glass under 
the amiable protection of Luke without being disturbed by 
the police. When Luke's place closed, the old times were 
over once again. 

Now, of course, time really is moving fast; the 1960 
"End of Greenwich Village" tramples down that Green- 
wich Village which subverts the Greenwich Village which 
preceded it; and again change destroys its "essential char- 
acter." New high-rise apartment houses, replacing the 
handsomely decrepit fretwork tenements, give sign of the 
alteration in olde New York wrought by cold cash and hot 
mortgage. The restless spirit of consumership has discov- 
ered the charm of nonconformity, along with coffee houses, 
hi-fi, and girls in tight pants; but the new, prosperous, in- 
telligent, gifted wageslaves who seek to recapture their 
perhaps never-was youth by moving to the Village want 
to nonconform in comfort, like everyone else, with built-in 
air conditioners, speedy silent elevators, and a rent they 
are not ashamed to murmur aloud. 

In the process, some of the traditional Village land- 
marks the old Brevoort Hotel, the gingerbread apartment 
houses, and the Waldorf Cafeteria, where Maxwell Boden- 
heim came to make fun of the junkies, and stayed and 
stayed have disappeared. Many fine blocks full of wood- 


burning fireplaces have fallen under the builder's heartless 
ax, making way for central heating, low ceilings, and high 
rent. The Village is very much a state of mind, usually 
centered at such landmarks as Washington Square, Sheri- 
dan Square, and a shifting few favorite restaurants, streets, 
places, and events; unofficially there can hardly be an 
official map for a tradition the outlines of the Village 
begin to manifest themselves at Fourteenth Street on the 
north, the Hudson River on the west, Canal Street to the 
south, and Broadway on the east. But these are not firm 
outlines, merely hints and histories. Since there are Vil- 
lagers living on Fifteenth Street, is this not the Village? 
And what about Sixteenth Street? And Seventeenth? And 
Eighteenth? No, Eighteenth Street is certainly lost to an- 
other style, but still, how many hairs make a beard and 
what does a neighbor street need in order to join the 

Now the traditional locus of the Village is being 
bulged outward by an American need to build a bigger, 
better headquarters for nonconformity: There is the chic 
Fifth Avenue Village, extended up East Eighth Street; 
there is the clean, new, monumental and boring Washing- 
ton Square Village development, which replaced an old 
slum just south of Washington Square with a huge tene- 
ment cake of glass and aluminum (abstract expressionist 
paintings in the lobby); there are the rehabilitated Italian 
and Irish slums adjoining, and the refurbished dockside 
tenements, and a general groaning and heaving of the 
land as real-estate developers rush in to discover "the 
charm of Village living/' Some brilliant mice seem to have 
discovered a deep truth: Build a better people trap and the 
world will beat a path to your door. All you have to do is 
stand in front of a building in a suit with wide lapels and 
the crusted bricks come slipping down, thinking they recog- 
nize a builder. 

The Village's first stock-brokerage office has opened on 


Sixth Avenue, around the corner from the offices of The 
Village Voice, on ground hallowed by the tread of pa- 
trolling actors, artists, technocrats, ancient crones, homo- 
sexuals; it lies catty-corner across from the Women's House 
of Detention, a dismal warehouse in which prostitutes, 
shoplifters, junkies, molls, accessories-after-the-fact are kept 
in inventory. Occasionally the girls stored in their coolers 
grow restive, as growing girls will do; they lean against the 
bars and holler at each other, or bang their eating tools, 
screaming curses or impractical invitations into the street. 
Now the stroller below, wild with desire, can shout back 
up at them the bid and asked price on General Electric 
or A.T.&T., fresh off the tape. 

Today the Village seems, to those for whom it was 
a part of their youth, like one of those jigsaw puzzles in 
which you put together the two hundred pieces and are 
rewarded with a vision of a sylvan glen and a perfect 
beauty dawdling from a rope swing, dressed only in her 
smile. Under "B" in the index of a book on the post-World 
War I Village, we find these entries: Babbittry; Basement 
tenements; Birth control clinics; Block, the, as a unit; 
Bodenheim, Maxwell; Bohemianism, pseudo; Bohemians, 
out-and-out; Bookbinding; Bourgeois morality; Bourgeois- 
romantic family; Bricklayers; Broccoli; Butchers' shops. 

The non-"B" pieces of the puzzle, for those now sud- 
denly middle-aged, also include the speakeasies, the old 
Nick's, Dixieland jazz, the anarchists and Communists 
and Martha Graham, the Waldorf Cafeteria, rent parties, 
the Masses, Howard Scott (founder of Technocracy), 
Floyd Dell and Joe Gould (founders of Floyd Dell and 
Joe Gould), Eugene O'Neill and a few dozen other of the 
dear departed, and the ageless troglodyte on every block 
who lived for some harmless madness of dress or manner 
or erotic preference. Gone, all gone; or if still there, so 
changed as to be occasion of deep deception to our nostal- 
gia-bound visitor. 


And yet, each piece in the eternal jigsaw game has its 
equivalent today, right now: the White Horse Tavern, 
the Five Spot for progressive jazz, the cooperative galleries 
on East Tenth Street which represent the avant-garde of 
the abstract expressionist habit, the beatniks and the hip- 
sters and the dance students and the Actors Studio gangs, 
Jim Atkins' glassed-around short-order place on Sheridan 
Square, the Rienzi and the Figaro coffee houses, a host 
of vocal painters and sculptors, like Larry Rivers and Ibram 
Lassaw, and the poets a-reading of the jagged truth in 
the jazz-and-poetry emporiums like the Bizarre on West 
Third Street. And so our middle-aged visitor reconstructs 
the puzzle, every piece falling neatly into place. And yet 
the vision of a sylvan glen and ardent promise may elude 
his critical eye, for the crucial elements which give it all its 
excitement the eye and hand and moiling heart of the 
puzzle-fitterare irrevocably altered. The puzzle needs an 
organizing principle for its message to be unscrambled, and 
this principle seems to come from the hot blood within, 
that first sweet youthful discovery of freedom, passion and 
rebellion. And thus the word: "The Village isn't what it 
used to be/' 

But if those who came to the Village during the De- 
pression utter this mournful complaint, so now do those 
who traveled toward Charles Street on or off the GI Bill 
after the war. They too, settled into the second marriage 
and third child, or into some combination of those ele- 
ments, having taken on a permanent job and the habit 
of having habits, must mutter to their wives on their 
Saturday-night tour: "Ah, the San Remo is spoiled. Ah, 
what' s happened to the old White Horse?" 

"Yes, honey, and a bunch of lousy dykes has taken the 
place of those divine lesbians/' 

"Yes, darling, and where is Death (the magazine 
which answered Lz/e), and where, O where is Neurotica 


(the analysts have their journals, now it's time for the 
patients to have one)?" 

Answer: the Village has always moved fast A gener- 
ation lasts only a few seasons. Death has died, honey, and 
the editor of Neurotica has moved to St. Louis. 

But if these visitors look at the girls down from Sarah 
Lawrence, searching for the ghost of poor Dylan (whom 
they could have saved by pure love, of course) or the 
shadow of Jack Kerouac (who needs them, dig?), squired 
by boys remembering that they were Holden Caulfield in 
some other, better life, these veterans of old Village cam- 
paigns must see familiar faces their own. The Village 
jumps tirelessly to its eternal role as the objective expression 
of an urge to rebel, strike out anew, break the barriers of 
convention and (very important) have something to shock 
the old folks about And in one case out of ten thousand, 
of course, this "crise d'originditi juvenile" as a French 
psychologist named it, leads to that essential human crisis 
of discovery and creation. The habit and trapping of re- 
bellion may involve rebellion in fact, and the destruction 
of worn-out ways of thinking, and the creation of works 
of mind and art. 

For the remaining 9999, they have at least had a fling, 
some art movies and some pizza late at night, something to 
be nostalgic about in ten years, when "the Village has 
really changed, pal we didn't used to have bomb shelters 
on Sullivan Street" 

Like the mating salmon swarming up the Columbia 
River, the girls seeking freedom and "self-expression" rush 
down from the smart women's colleges; they head eastward 
from the big state institutions, their fins ajiggle and their 
gill slits pulsing; they forgather for adventure and true 
love in Manhattan, and a high percentage naturally finds 
its way to Greenwich Village. The result is a highly ab- 
normal situation in many of the professions: an oversupply 


of lovely ladies. In the theatre, for example, there are more 
women than men to begin with; then if you subtract from 
the pool of available manpower doing service at dinner 
and bed those men who are contentedly married, those 
who are already engrossed by one girl, and those who prefer 
non-girls, you have remaining a lovely turmoil of lovely 
lost ladies, wishing they knew somebody. Because they 
work hard, they know few people outside the theatre. They 
spend many an evening walking the dog up and down 
Tenth Street, dreaming that somewhere in God's Green 
Village there must be a foot-loose heterosexual. Probably 
the loneliest girls in the world are theatrical beauties, 
alien as this idea is to the American fantasy of the wild 
life of actresses. 

In days gone by, men went to the Village to hunt 
women. Now they go to be hunted; there is a remarkable 
contemporary tendency of the prey to track down the 

A special example of Village devotion to Thespis is a 
girl we shall call Norma, a long-legged, creamy-skinned 
brunette with crisp dramatic gifts and a stubborn crush 
on Shakespeare and Shaw. Most actors, no matter what 
their preferences, take the jobs offered them. Norma, who 
has a degree in theatre from Carnegie Tech, fanatically 
refuses roles in musicals and contemporary plays because 
she doesn't want to risk a threat to her classic style. 
Therefore she makes her living, between productions of 
A Midsummer Night's Dream and Caesar and Cleopatra, 
by working as a skilled, albeit slightly sullen call girl. This 
she does not consider corruption because only the theatre 
really matters and the particular act she puts on for certain 
out-of-town buyers does not affect her diction. Also she 
plies her trade in the midtown expense-account belt which 
she holds in contempt; "real life" for her is located on 
Charles Street, where she remains a svelte young actress, 
taking her breakfast at lunch time in blue jeans in a drug 


store while she reads Eric Bentley on the theatre of Bertolt 
Brecht. She is considering broadening her repertoire. 

Norma feels only contempt for the commercial 
actresses, call them Marge and Jo, who live together in 
precarious amity. Marge makes a steady living doing all 
the baby voices for one of the radio networks while she 
awaits an appropriate Broadway part. Jo, less successful, 
wrote a book about Marge between jobs and sold it to a 
paperback publisher. Since it exposed baby-voiced Marge's 
love life in adult, adulterous, and unadulterated detail, 
there was a strain between the two roomies which lasted 
almost a week. They took their meals in separate rooms. 
Marge calls Jo a fake because she had her nose bobbed 
twice. Once is enough for an honest girl. 

"But it wasn't short enough," wails Jo. "And it hung 
a little to one side/' 

"So does your bosom, sweets," says her dear friend. 

At the traditional street fairs the big Italian ones 
and the smaller Spanish one just north of the Village 
the aging Village-lover can still find, almost unchanged, 
the elements which bewitched his youth: fat, savory 
sausages, fried crustaceans of mysterious varieties, sold 
cheaply on the street, brilliant colors, gambling and drink- 
ing and the penny-toss, Sicilian street singers crying in their 
broken tenors of lost, lost love, thick-ankled, thick-waisted 
beauties, with unbobbed noses, leaving streaks of lipstick 
on bar glasses. On these saints' days, no injection of tourists 
from uptown can dilute the amiable, loud, distracted cal- 
liope pleasure of carnival nights. The parrot tells your 
fortune for twenty cents, plucking a piece of paper in its 
horny bill: and what care you if the somber slender gentle- 
man awaiting his future in line behind you is Montgomery 
Clift, and if the excited lady is Shelley Winters? The 
Village has room for disconsolate movie actors, too. 

The Village, while still a place for the young and 


the undecided, is inhabited by Villagers that is, people 
of all ages and conditions. The contrast between the 
Village and its recent rival for the hand of Youth the 
North Beach area of San Francisco tells the story clearly. 
The barefoot beatniks of North Beach make the staid 
diners at Chumley's on Bedford Street ("Patronized by 
Writers and Artists") look like elder statesmen. When the 
North Beach is invaded by middle-aged nostalgists, and the 
morose beatniks settle down to raising square babies, and 
there are memories and histories of "the way it was," and 
novelists, playwrights, poets and painters have fixed the 
scene in their work, then the North Beach will be on its 
way toward becoming another Greenwich Village. 

In the meantime, the Village still provides the Amer- 
ican "capital of hope and paradise of misery." The more 
the Village changes, settles down, rebuilds, the more it 
remains the same thing. And perhaps its lack of respect 
for Village tradition is a sign of its continuing vitality as 
a reflection of the realities of American life. While the 
Village changes under pressure, it changes in directions 
molded not merely by pressure from the outside. The 
quintessential rebellious Village strikes back, and the 
rest of the world falters. An example of this lively, restless, 
spirited Village playfulness can be found in and around 
The Village Voice, a weekly newspaper which is less a 
newspaper than a cause to its editors and subscribers. Hip, 
unbeat, irreverent and comical, the newspaper has also 
sharpened and led a drive against Tammany Hall; with 
another head it has garrulously and energetically hollered 
on behalf of off-Broadway theatre; it has led a victorious 
and well-organized battle against New York City's all- 
powerful Commissioner of Parks, Robert Moses. This 
symbolic battle can very well stand for the low-level and 
personal and heartening struggle of the Village against 
the rampant force of commercialism. 

Stately Washington Square, with its Frenchified Arch 


and charm one of the historical landmarks of the Village, 
had been under attack from several sides. New York Uni- 
versity had spread around it, cracking up some fine old 
Georgian houses in its educational cobra's embrace; the 
police were shoving away the girls, the dogs, the hippies, 
the hobos, and the babies who played in the grass. Heavy 
traffic through the little stretch of park was poisoning the 
green. And then along came Moses. Unlike the Biblical 
Moses, who wanted to cross the desert, this bureaucratic 
Moses wanted to produce a desert by widening the road- 
way through the Square, increasing traffic, renaming and 
widening a narrow Village street at the opposite end. In 
order to create "Lower Fifth Avenue/' an address which 
would presumably suggest an increment of verbal prestige, 
he was willing to destroy the park. Apparently the de- 
velopers of Washington Square Village, to the south of 
the Square, had been promised the Fifth Avenue label 
through some mysterious political process. 

Here was a clear issue. It was historical tradition versus 
real estate speculation, lovers versus automobiles, folk 
singers versus trucks, green versus asphalt, the people of the 
Village against the arrogance of New York politicians. 
With great relish, The Village Voice led its tattered batal- 
lions into action. Mothers with baby carriages filled with 
gallant sucklings, united legions of liberal Democrats and 
progressive Republicans, students and artists and hip kids 
and off-Broadway geniuses and crones from Washington 
Mews whose cronish aunts remembered Henry James 
all united behind a banner decorated by Jules Feiffer and 
the impassioned, sometimes grammatical rhetoricians of 
the Voice. 

And lo, David slew Goliath. Not only did the Village 
win its battle to keep the Square undiminished, but then 
it also attacked and eliminated all traffic through Wash- 
ington Square. The park was preserved for its stoic pursuits 
chess on the permanent concrete-and-tfle chessboards 


(where bundled and huffing old men study the board even 
through the long winter), love, philosophy, the tranquil 
digestive functioning of dogs, bongo artistry, and all the 
etceteras of a city park. Robert Moses beat a sullen, scream- 
ing retreat; Tammany Hall, responsive to the pressure of 
bona fide, licensed, curried and voting voters, even joined 
The Village Voice in its campaign, once victory seemed 

A small victory? Perhaps. But important as a gesture 
of defiance against the march of the superhighway and the 
developer. It gave courage to the Save-the-Village move- 
ment a-borning. And on Washington Square the bongos 
and the guitars, their friends and their fellow travelers, 
can still idle away a summer evening. 

Partly as result of the Save-Washington-Square, Save- 
the-Village, Save-Our-Geniuses campaign, mostly for its 
five-year-old championing of the new hip Village, The 
Village Voice has taken the title of Spokesman for the 
Village away from the experimental little magazines of 
an earlier period. It is in the pages of the Voice that the 
various states of mind of Village youth find their public 
masks. In a time of consumership, the Village way is very 
much, at its most banal, a way of dressing. Village Ivy, 
typified by Casual-aire, is the absolute iviest no shoulders 
at all, just a slight thickening at the base of the neck, and 
pants so tight that they drive a man's dangling participles 
someplace up near his belt, and the tie stuck to the Adam's 
apple with a small, invisible thumbtack, Village jeans are 
either the Actors Studio variety, white at the knees from 
praying for failure in deep Tennessee Williams scenes, or 
stained like an unsigned Jackson Pollock canvas. Subsidiary 
Village costumes include the students' heavy-knit sweaters 
and corduroy, the bull-dykey or rough trade's black-leather 
jackets, studded with nails, and the sailor suits wandering 
down Fourth Street, looking for professional company on 


strip row. The Village Voice appeals to these costumes and 
to the occasional human beings within, giving special 
emphasis to the hipsters and their faded, anemic cousins, 
the beatniks. It also parodies itself, as in this want 
The flavor of The Village Voice, and through it, of 
the changing Village of the Sixties, can be indicated by a 
quick review of one issue taken at random. On the front 
page there are photographs showing the actors and actresses 
of the Circle in the Square moving to a new theatre on 
Bleecker Street. Reason: a new apartment development 
will replace the theatre, Louis' Tavern and other historic 
monuments on Sheridan Square. There is also a news 
story about a quarrel between Tammany Hall and Green- 
wich Village Democrats. On page two there is a feature 
story about a Villager who once walked a few blocks east 
of the Village to make a famous documentary film, On 
the Bowery, and then went several thousand miles away to 
make a film about apartheid in South Africa. Also a cartoon 
by Jules Feiffer, an advertisement for a lecture on "Love, 
Justice and Adultery" at the Village Liberal Church, an 
advertisement inviting us to "CONSULT FAMED HINDU" 
("Astrologer and Teacher of Yoga"), and offers of jobs 
to mandolin players, and an invitation to tour Scandinavia 
by motorcycle. Sometimes in this section young men, 
"handsome, intelligent, strong/' offer to show lonely 
women the Village for a moderate fee. Page three contains 
the news flash that Allen Ginsberg, author of How/, has 
gone to the University of Conception, Chile, to represent 
the United States at a writers' conference. He is quoted 
as saying that there is a difference between the Chilean 
university and a beatnik Hilton coffee shop in Dallas, to 
which he had refused an invitation. On page four there is 
another Feiffer cartoon about a man who suffers all sorts of 
ailments, and therefore thinks he has become dangerously 
neurotic; turns out that he has a cold. A long article mourns 


the death of Albert Camus. On page five, with more about 
Camus, there are also advertisements for a lecture on James 
Joyce (Headline: JAMES JOYCE!), an advertisement for 
burlap to decorate your pad, and a clothing store cutely 
advertising a cloth called LAD CLAD, which you just paint on 
like aftershave, it's the iviest, mon. "But in the meantime, 
we are also putting out all our cloth suits at special 
prices . . ." On page six, we find a review of a beat maga- 
zine called Exodus, announcement of a lecture on "HITLER! 
The Artist As Fiend. . . . The Nazi Movement as Beat 
Generation," to be given at the New School. Then follow 
a couple of pages of theatre reviews, a page of sports car 
and hi-fi poop, an advt for the New York Telephone Com- 
MILES FROM TIMES SQUARE. The last pages are devoted to 
miscellaneous material and the classified advertisements 
which provide the Voice's most imaginative prose; they 
offer opportunities for folk singers, male models, female 
models, and pretty girls who "wish to sink teeth into v non 
run of the mill job." Also motor scooters, guitar lessons, 
used men's clothes. Also acting lessons, escort services, 
books by Henry Miller. Also ski equipment, detective 
services, and free cats for cat lovers. 

The Village Voice specializes in exploration of the 
new mental and physical geography of the Village. It pro- 
vided one of the first boosts given The Connection, a "jazz 
play" written by twenty-seven-year-old Jack Gelber and per- 
formed by the Living Theatre, a group of living actors 
over on the north end of the Village at living Fourteenth 
Street. The play has no conventional plot; it includes, 
among its actors, an instrumental group which occasionally 
takes time out from the diddling movement of the play to 
make a bit of dawdling jazz; the situation is that of a 
group of junkies waiting, just waiting for its fix. When 
Cowboy, the connection, finally arrives, and gives an in- 
jection of heroin on stage, strong men blanch or so the 


publicity says and strong girls want to run up on stage 
to help. "That's the way it is, that's the way it really is, 
man/ 7 intones a sepulchral voice at intervals during the 

Heroin seems to replace politics as subject for talk in 
the Village of I960, though just as there were always more 
fellow travelers than Communists, so there are more 
beatniks than genuine, hypo-carrying hipsters. (Colonel 
Rudolph Abel, who eked out his living as a Russian spy, 
was eccentric even for the Village, and his paintings were 
objective, square.) Like the gossipaceous politics of the 
Thirties, the hipnik movement provides something to talk 
about for a large group of bored Villagers. Most are too 
cool to fall up to the Cafe Bizarre, where the poetry is read 
to the jazz, mon, and too bored by teenage chicks to go 
to the Figaro on Bleecker, where the floorshow seems to 
consist of interracial checker playing; but espresso-shop 
society has proliferated rapidly south along MacDougal 
Street, penetrating even the Italian south Village, where 
the strolling Amorist has his choice of many plain and fancy 
mausoleums Le Petit Coin, the Couch, etc. where to 
sit with a girl for a long slow evening. At the Cafe Rienzi, 
for example, there are French, Italian, German and Swiss 
newspapers available for free browsing with your Java, and 
if you are really far out, equipped with the lingo of finance, 
they also carry copies of The Wdl Street Journal. The 
Rienzi is split-leveled, split-sexed, and carries a bulletin 
board and exhibitions of photographs. 

MacDougal Street is the hub of life for the couples 
known as Bronx Bagel Babies and A-Trainers the home- 
based kids who come down for excitement in the Village 
and the Harlem tourists who help to give it to them. The 
latter are called A-Trainers because they take the Inde- 
pendent subway back at the end of the day. 

If you invade the scene on foot and wander down 
Waverly Place of a soft spring evening, the following acts 


might succeed each other in rapid succession on the stage 
of the Village: there is that solemn, sallow, cinematogra- 
phically evil chap who perpetually waits in a doorway, 
selling what? numbers or ponies or marijuana; a man 
ambles by wearing one earring two would be square; a 
male begger asks, "Gimme a quarter, mister, so my wife 
can buy a Dior dress"; a load of abstract expressionist 
paintings is being carried into the Manufacturers Trust 
bank, where they will be exhibited along with naturalistic 
dollars; one of the moving men has a copy of Andr6 Gide's 
Theseus in his back pocket moving men are among the 
intellectual aristocrats of the Village, and it's a chic way 
for a muscular actor or writer to supplement his income 
and also keep in condition; a model walks toward Wash- 
ington Square, where she has a date to meet under 
the Arch so skinny she looks as if she has been stretched 
on a rack; and there is ubiquitous, bearded Sam Kramer 
again, the psychoanalytic jewelry maker, buying cream 
cheese, and a certain practicing psychologist, the rack him- 
self, walking to meet the model. 

Then if you happen to have reason for ducking down 
the subway entrance and emerging in midtown Manhattan, 
all is hurry, hurry, hurry, and you see why people love to 
dwell near where Sam Kramer buys his cream cheese and 
that psychologist does his best to fatten up skinny models. 

All these varied societies hipters, beatniks, Harlem, 
Bronx and Brooklyn adolescents, Madison Avenue middle- 
classniks, artists and actors, jowly rakes, Italian old-timers, 
sailors, college students, cream cheese buyers meet and 
mill about together on the crowded weekend streets of the 
Village. If we walk into the Cock and Bull, we may almost 
think ourselves in an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. It 
is a large barnlike room which used to be a book-store and 
now sells sundaes with fancy names like "Orgy," costing 
as much as $2.50 for enough ice cream to choke your maw 
for keeps. But unlike the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, 


the jukebox blares far-out numbers by the Coasters and 
the walls are decorated with posters from off-Broadway 
plays and the kids wear faces of premature cunning and 
boredom. The girls are mostly jailbait chicks, radically 
underage and looking it in their baby fat, pedal pushers, 
unskillful mascara, and ponytails. The men are hungry 
chaps who may be as old as forty. The Cock and Bull seems 
to specialize in men who like girls who like ice cream. On 
the bulletin board in back there are notices about sharing 
apartments, buying Vespas, providing secretarial services. 
One poetry-loving chick offered to type poetry free, a small 
charge for prose. 

The great current intellectual fad, all over the Village, 
is the beatnik convulsion. The beatniks have been described 
by an acute English observer, Malcolm Bradbury, as 
"Nihilism's Organization Men," since like all corporate 
types, they tend to convene and stratify. The Village is 
their Eastern headquarters, just as the North Beach area 
in San Francisco houses the main Western office. There 
has been much confusion about hip and beat; this con- 
fusion can be examined in objective detail on the streets of 
Greenwich Village at night. 

The hipster was a man who fled emotion through the 
use of narcotics, keeping cool, floating in his high; the 
beatnik is an imitation hipster, wearing the clothes and 
loitering at the door of the club. Allen Ginsberg and 
Kenneth Rexroth, the most original of the hip writers, 
generated a small literary following, including Jack Kerouac, 
Gregory Corso, and Norman Mailer, and attracted admirers 
among those who looked at jeans and fast driving and said, 
"Here is Real Life! Wow!" Alternating between San Fran- 
cisco and New York, the hip and beat publicists recruit 
the kids into wearing free-form jewelry and saying "man" 
to each other. While the Village has its marvelous charm 
of irregularity, this should not be confused with the sort 
of passionate independence which provides the seedbed of 


genius. An avant-garde is always egotistical, self-devoted, 
convinced; it raises its voice, angrily and even shrilly, in 
order to be sure that it is heard. The pseudo avant-garde, 
like the hipster writers, has a distracted self-regard, troubled 
to be alone, weak-egoed rather than egotistical, and raises 
its voice desperately, like a deaf man, in order to make 
sure it has a voice. Not to be heard, but to be reassured. 

As the naturalist Fabre wrote of the Sacred Beetle, 
it is sometimes worshiped by the easily awed, "a veritable 
living gem, shining like polished metal," but nevertheless 
its main activity consists in collecting great balls of dung, 
rolling them about, occasionally stealing from a friend, and 
finally, in some dark hideaway, proudly dining. These 
stercoriculous beasties clear the fields and serve good pur- 
pose; perhaps we praise them so exotically because they 
destroy their handiwork by eating it unlike the beat 
rhapsodists, they are satisfied to hide it from our exploring 

Perhaps the most successful work of art produced by 
the hipsters, after Allen Ginsberg's exciting vaudeville 
Howl, is the campy movie Pull My Daisy, which stars Gins- 
berg (playing a beat poet), Gregory Corso (playing a beat 
poet), and Peter Orlovsky (playing a beat poet), plus the 
painter Larry Rivers and others, with a narration spoken 
(gargled, mumbled, yawped) and written (improvised, he 
says) by Jack Kerouac, the beat prose writer. A distinctly 
Village product, it was photographed in the lower Village 
by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, beat photographer and 
beat painter, respectively; and it shows the whole beat 
crew just goofing in a cold-water flat among all kinds of 
cockroaches "sugar cockaroaches," intones Kerouac, 
''bread cockaroaches . . . peanut butter cockaroaches" 
while various human accidents occur, such as the arrival 
of a "Zen bishop" with his mother who carries an American 
flag between her legs, a bit of wrestling among the poets, 
and a fight between a man and his wife, who objects to the 


poets just fagging around underfoot all the time. Whether 
intentionally or not; the film is funny and has an in-group 

Despite their futile gab, or perhaps because of it, the 
hipsters and their fleas give a strong flavor to the Village, 
like their allies, the homosexuals. Something relatively new 
in America, there is now open professional solicitation of 
men in the area around the corner of Sixth Avenue and 
Eighth Street, with a full assortment of blondined boys and 
leather-jacketed rough trade. Very late at night, when the 
hazard of true love seems to give way to the certainties of 
cash money, the male prostitutes stand waiting in the 
doorways, like chippies everywhere, gossiping with each 
other, falling silent when a possible mark strolls by. They 
murmur Rodgers-and-Hart show tunes, substituting the 
pronoun "he" for "she"; they lift their delicate heads; they 
stroke their cheeks and stand very close to their pants; they 
push forward their bellies in a parody of the model's pelvic 

Then in the morning, at Pam-Pam or Jim Atkins', they 
take long leisurely breakfasts, standing like Air Force officers 
in a hundred familiar movies, discussing their missions of 
the night before, the successful raid and the downed flight, 
checking with the queens from friendly squadrons, loitering 
over the third cup of coffee and blinking in the smile of 
sun through the window. Occasionally, confusingly, a 
beautiful girl joins them for breakfast, an actress or a 
model, secure in the sanitary devotion of men who want 
nothing from a woman but praise. 

And sometimes at breakfast a tender mixed couple, 
man and woman, rising late after the night before, holding 
hands at the counter. 

And sometimes a handsome Village mother, wheeling 
her baby carriage, doing the shopping after sending her 
husband off to paint in his studio, or write, or sell space. 


The Village has set sail for the future, like all of 
unanchored America, set sail or set adrift, take your choice. 
A visit to the Village always provokes a crisis of nostalgia 
in those who have moved on but do not want the Village 
to move on. The lovely, long-legged blonde girl who used 
to be seen strolling with Sam Kramer, the bearded jewelry 
maker gone. The Waldorf Cafeteria, where the bums and 
the junkies and Maxwell Bodenheim convened all night 
over moldy prunes and coffee gone, replaced by a bank. 
Roman Marie, who used to feed the wild and the artistic 
very quiet. Djuna Barnes and e e cummings in seclusion. 
(It is said that a group of beat poets made a pilgrimage 
one night to cummings' house on Patchin Place. "We're 
poets! We're poets!" they shouted, and a ghostly voice 
issued from a window: "Go away.") And Bodenheim him- 
self, poet of delicate wit and ribald enthusiasm: he went 
down to drink and died of blows on the head, strokes with a 
knife, administered by the crazy thug with whom he shared 
it seems both bottle and wife. The Brevoort Hotel, 
home of elegant artists in moments of triumph gone, re- 
placed by a boring luxury apartment house. The Rhine- 
lander Gardens also raped by an apartment house. Joe 
Gould dead. Max Eastman rich. The Group Theatre 

And yet ... 

Young Boris, proprietor of the old Borsch Bowl, dis- 
penser of philosophy and black bread, is gone. But long 
live Boris! Grayer, plumper, presiding over a new Borsch 
Bowl, Boris lives on, garrulously, offering black bread. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, who once inhabited the 
narrowest house in New York, at 73 Bedford Street, has 
finished burning her candle at both ends, but next door 
another artist works late into the night. This new poet of 
Bedford Street inhabits a book-lined study; his lovely slim 
wife stands by with coffee as he works; they can both be 
seen from the street, bending over his desk, he fretting, she 


peacefully confident, watching with a half smile on her face, 
until she taps him gently on the shoulder: "It's very late, 
dear." (It turns out, alas, that this nocturnal creator is the 
author of one of the important comic strips.) 

And there is another long-legged blonde who can be 
seen strolling with Sam Kramer, the still-bearded jewelry 
maker the same beard, a similar blonde. 

And there are coffee houses which have Sunday-after- 
noon chamber-music recitals. And some eccentric ones 
which merely serve coffee. 

And Charlie Van Doren, the defrocked quiz star, 
quietly writing a novel (a play?) which everyone supposes 
will deal with a simple, true-hearted, slightly greedy young 
quiz star who, nearly corrupted by the mass media, receives 
a letter from a little old lady named Checkers, just in time 
to keep him from perjuring himself before a Congressional 
committee ... In Jim Atkins' eatery the odds are against 
his starring in the movie version. 

And the lovely fashion model who transmitted a small 
crablike infestation to a whole group of poets "like that's 
her protest against the whole sex-oriented system, dig," 
explained one of them, scratching. And the eager virgin 
who makes a hobby of suggesting that she and her date 
go back to his place so that she can take a shower and 
then she takes a shower. And carries a switch-blade to make 
sure that her date keeps the peace. And the girls who live 
by remittances from home while they find their souls, and 
seem to find them, for they usually disappear into social 
work after a year or two. And the girls, girls, girls. Italo 
Calvino, a distinguished Italian novelist, declared that the 
most monumental, splendid, and architecturally efficient 
structure he found in America was not a skyscraper but a 
small flexible device; it was first modeled for him in Green- 
wich Village: "Change my whole life! the dee-ah-fragum!" 

There are no more rent parties, at which you paid a 
small admission to dance the Charleston, eat cheap spa- 


ghetti and drink bathtub gin so that your host could keep 
body, soul, and furniture off the street, but there are shin- 
digs like the STOMP OUT BOBBY BREEN PARTY (at Madame 
Irma's Dancehall on Second Avenue) to which you are 
asked to bring your own booze, although the mimeographed 
invitation assures you that "BEER, MUSIC, ICE CUBES, PAPER 


vided by the Management/' You are also warned: "This 
party is by private invitation only . . . don't bring your 
friends . . . don't bring good old Harry who lives in Queens 
but is a nice guy . . . nor your Aunt Lucy who has always 
wanted to go to a Real Village Party . . . don't hip the 
Bronx ... if your girl is the kind who locks herself in the 
can at parties to weep, don't bring her ... if you insist on 
singing, forget it ... if your idea of a good time is charades, 
we don't want you ... no marrieds except the unhappily 
. . . don't tell Life magazine . . . wear a funny hat if you 
like, but no costumes!" There are other parties for little 
companies of off-Broadway players, who offer Gallo wine 
and corrosive martinis in the hope that you may write a 
check to help support their production of a symbolic drama 
by lonesco, Adamov, Ghelderode, or the omnipresent re- 
vival of Winterset. The actors now have pads (or live with 
their hip parents in Forest Hills), and worry about unpaid 
parking tickets rather than the grocery bill, but the theatre 
needs a stage, brother, and the union gives us lip. Those 
uptown bankrollers who used to say "nix" to the avant-garde 
have now learned to say "Bug off, Buster/' It turns out that 
many of us need our daily dose of anxiety. If we can't 
worry about our own landlord, we'll fret about the bourgeois 
proscenium type who holds the keys to the Circle in the 

And so it goes in the eternal Village that impossible, 
actual American dream of freedom through bohemia. Amid 
all the open possibilities of American life, which permits 
a young man to select any variety of togetherness he 
chooses, there are many who feel constricted. They ask, 


Why this? Why not that? And perhaps even, Why not the 
other thing? Why not try my impulse, try my luck, try my 
talent, try my skills at loafing and self-generating labor? 
They are squeezed in the direction of declared rebellion, 
abstention, disaffiliation. 

These patient and impatient yearners after truth, 
beauty and easy living will always float toward the Village 
the artists and the art-lovers, the worshipers of sex, the 
sick and the spoiled, the young and the special and the 
adventurous, all making common cause in the pleasure of 
their differences. In 1960, when the pressure to do like 
others is high in America, the Village takes a new shape, 
molded by money. It is becoming an elegant bohemia in 
which radical politics are replaced by the hip and the beat; 
the bearded poets are crowded to one side by the bearded 
advertising men with sports cars sold them by bearded 
salesmen. Though it changes as it mirrors the times, the 
Village is still necessary. It is that bottle in which Americans 
put whatever the suburbs and the colleges and the middle- 
class family cannot happily contain. 

So listen, Herman, tell Mrs. Melville to get in line. 
Come back to the Village and write poetry if you like. 
Open the bottle and free the djinn yourself into the 
carrousel whirl of Greenwich Village, where change is ever- 
lasting and the permanent never remains the same. There's 
a fellow over on Cornelia Street who looks like a homesick 
Canarsie ghost returned to sell wolf pelts and otter meat on 
his ancient lands. In fact, of course, he is a peaceable, 
poetry-loving Arab weaver, a frequent tea drinker, who 
grows irate if you call him beat "I'm a member of the 
Post Beat Generation," he says with quiet dignity, shuckling 
his hands in his embroidery. "The difference between us 
and the beats, man, is ... Well, like we're different. Like 
we affirm, man. I mean, like we protest/' 

Apparently, affirmative protest is here to stay. Green- 
wich Village may have ended at twelve o'clock this evening, 
but it has begun again at midnight. 1960 

Death in Miami Beach 

THE STATE OF MADNESS can be defined partly as an extreme 
of isolation of one human being from everyone else. It 
provides a model for dying. Only an intermittent and frag- 
mentary awareness of others interrupts the black folding 
of the layers of self upon each other this also defines the 
state of that dilemma known as "mental health/' 

There is a false madness induced by the accidents of 
isolation which prisoners, travelers, and the very ill may 
sometimes experience without giving up their return ticket. 
Surely you out there all know what I mean from your own 
troubles and painful decisions. To say that it is false mad- 
ness does not soften its extremity. The mask of existence 
fits harshly on your skin, but it is in fact your only skin; 
and when harshly your skin is peeled off beneath it you 
are naked and your naked isolation is no joy to you. 

During a period of work on a long job of writing in 
the winter of 1958, I deliberately withdrew myself from 
all those who knew my name and traveled by auto- 
mobile in slow stages through the deep South to Miami 
Beach, Key West, Havana, and finally back up toward 
Detroit. No one asked me to write a novel, no one asked 



me to go away; but I did anyway, I was tempted by the 
prospect of dreaming through my story amid a pleasant 
chaos of sun and sea, all other responsibilities suspended, 
and so I arranged it for myself. 

Work is very fine, but after the day's work, isolation, 
silence, and death seemed to follow me through the zazzy 
carnival of Miami, the casual resort indolence of Key West, 
and the smoky, blistered elegance of a tourist's Havana. 
In Havana, from the rooftop of the Ambos Mundos Hotel, 
I could see Batista's police loafing with their weapons in 
front of public buildings; occasionally there were bombs; 
once a body happened to be left in the street and people 
hurried by as if they knew nothing, nothing, nothing at 
all but the next step before them. 

At Key West, a few days before Christmas, I visited 
the turtle slaughterhouse. It is one of the few tourist attrac- 
tions on this spot of island, "North Havana," raised far 
out into the sea off the coast of Florida. Visitors take their 
kiddies by the hand and lead them to see the nice turtles. 

Before being killed and canned, the turtles swim in 
dense kraals, bumping each other in the murky water, 
armor clashing, dully lurching against the high pens. Later, 
trussed on a plank dock, they lie unblinking in the sun, 
their flippers pierced and tied. The tough leather of their 
skin does not disguise their present helplessness and pain. 
They wear thick, sun-hardened accumulations of blood 
at their wounds. Barbados turtles, as large as children, they 
belong to a species which has been eliminated locally by 
ardent harvesting of the waters near Key West, but the 
commercial tradition still brings them here to be slaugh- 
tered. Crucified like thieves, they breathe in little sighs, 
they gulp, they wait. 

At a further stage, in the room where the actual 
slaughtering occurs, the butchers stride through gore in 
heavy boots. The visitor must proceed on a catwalk; a mis- 
step will plunge him into a slow river of entrails and blood. 


Because it was near Christmastime, the owners of the 
plant had installed a speaker system for musical divertisse- 
ment of the butchers, and while the turtles dried under the 
sun or lay exposed to the butchers' knives, Christmas bells 
tolled out, electronically amplified, "God Rest Ye Merry, 
Gentlemen/ 7 or the Bing Crosby recording of "Adeste 

These commercial details are not intended to support 
a special plea on behalf of the humane harvesting of Bar- 
bados turtles. In fact, let me grant that I sought out this 
scene and visited the abattoir without having any proper 
business there at all: merely curiosity and the need to con- 
firm my imagination about it. I should be judged for 
vulgarity by the man who chooses out of purity not to 
follow me, not by the man I saw lurking outside, with a 
face ravaged by the horrified fascination which makes it 
impossible for him to visit his dreams. What had I done 
which he could not permit himself? Was I filthied, was I 
weakened by pleasure but obscurely nourished, was I fed 
on coveted turtle joys after trampling in turtle blood? Had 
I asked permission from the butcher and plied a knife 
with my own hands on the belly of one of the slow, un- 
blinking, dragon-headed, ancient sea-beasts? And did it 
arch its graceful dragon neck in reproach as I stabbed? He 
stared at me like a jealous lover, imagining my wickedness, 
rabid and hopeless, wanting to bury his head in the reek 
on my hands. 

Most of us turn from the vision of death only out of 
weakness, and this is no turning from death. Serve up your 
turtle steak, gourmet friend, with no protest from me; 
111 eat at your table. ("A nice rendition," one gentleman 
said of Bing Crosby to his wife. Turtle is tasty, somewhat 
gamy meat. Protein nourishes the brain brings oxygen 
and freedom.) 

A few days later, in Miami Beach, I participated in 
two trivial accidents. My hotel was in one of the oldest, 


therefore least expensive, parts of the town, only a short 
block from the sea and a short block from restaurants and 
therefore very convenient to my casual schedule: breakfast 
at Whelan's, a stretch of writing, a long swim, lunch, a 
pleasant bit of loafing on the beach, then perhaps some 
sunbaked work at my typewriter on the tar roof ("solar- 
ium"), and another swim before dinner. I had the habit 
in the morning of disregarding the elevator, hurrying down 
a back stairway of the Webster Hotel, through an alley, 
and so shortcutting to the drugstore. One day, wearing 
tennis shoes, I felt an evil slide and crunch underfoot, and 
knew first by the shrinking in my heart and then by simple 
inspection that I had stepped on a small animal. 

It seemed to be a variety of tropical cockroach. It 
had been perhaps an inch and a half long, longer with its 
wings spread, and it had strayed from the raised platform 
nearby where the hotel stored its rubbish. Now it lay 
twitching, legs scrambling in the air without moving, and 
a yellow ooze seeped from its body within the crushed 
carapace. I suppose it was already dead despite all this 
nervous movement. I went for a walk, told myself that 
this was a silly matter to be fretful about (I was merely 
isolated), and finally took my habitual breakfast: orange 
juice, scrambled eggs, toast, coffee. 

An hour later the dead beast was glued by its own 
innards to the paving of the alley; the Florida sun was 
moving through the sky above it. But now there was also 
a row of ants leading to it, another leading away, like 
twin caterpillars dissembling their unity of purpose. They 
were not merely eating, of course, they were carrying off 
the meat to their hill someplace. But the dead roach still 
twitched, and when the tickling jaws struck, it fluttered, 
squeezed, blindly pushed in its place. The ants went 
scrambling away, each carrying its minuscule steak. 

All afternoon the shell of the roach lay there. Its row 
of legs no longer waved of their own power, but there 


were still tremors as the eating ants tugged at it. Un- 
f atigued and busy, they were determined to wipe this slate 

Shortly before dark I again came down the back stair- 
way. Now the familiar arena had changed. Another foot 
had struck, more strange and haphazard than my own. 
The shell of the roach was destroyed; there were also dead 
ants freckling the stone; stillness and death. The ants were 
suddenly individual in death; the undulating columns were 
erased. And the work of eating was permanently interrupted 
for both eaters and eaten. 

The next morning when I walked through the alley 
no sign remained. A sweeper had done her work; there 
were straight, mechanical striations a friendly broom. 
Good. But I bent to look for some sign or memorial to 
the departed beast on this stretch of alley which I now 
knew very well. There was none. Marks of broom; new 
arrangements of pebbles and dust; history here had entered 
upon an epoch which was strange to me. 

Then finally a homely death entered what might pass 
for society in my isolated Miami Beach the world of the 
soda fountain at Whelan's, where strollers came into an 
air-conditioned place to shake off the sand of the beach, 
sip a Coke, buy lotions and plastic sunglasses, and some- 
times order a quick meal. 

I was taking my breakfast, according to my habit, on 
a stool at the counter. By this time I was acquainted with 
Frank, the short-order cook, who had emigrated from 
Second Avenue in New York twenty years ago for his health 
and, for sweet health's sake, still managed to cover the 
leathery pouched skin of age with a fierce Miami tan, 
despite his long hours in Whelan's service. It relieved the 
silence to exchange a few morning words with a man who 
by now knew my face: "Two scrambled light." 

"Same as yesterday, Mister." 

"Yes, like yesterday/' (Triumph in my voice: He 


remembers me! ) 'Whole-wheat toast. You got marmalade 

"Marmalade/ 7 Frank knew my face and my eggs. 

Other eaters, like me, were forking up eggs and grits 
and sipping their Cokes or coffee when the woman entered. 
She was blotched with sunburn, had a swollen nose, and 
a mouth open so wide for noise that all her features were 
distorted. Emitting emergency alarm signals, turning her 
head and staring, demanding passage, demanding attention, 
a shouting vehicle, she pushed a stumbling old man along 
with her. "Ohh," she screamed, "a Bromo! For God's sake 
a Bromo! My husband is dying, a Bromo, for God's sake!" 

The man's face was blue and he seemed barely con- 
scious. He swayed stiffly as she steered him toward a stool 
near me. 

"Oh, a Bromo right now, please!" she wailed, 

Frank, behind the counter, looked sideways at her, pre- 
tended the impossible that he did not hear her and 
went on making a bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich on 
whole-wheat toast, light on the mayonnaise. 

Two or three of us jumped up to support the old 
man. His skin had a thick purple glow that said death to 
all our eyes. 

"Oh, have mercy, a Bromo for my poor husband!" 
the woman screamed. "He didn't do nothing to you! For 
God's sake why don't you give it to him?" 

Floundering, I watched Frank finish the bee-ell-tee, 
slide it onto a plate, and hand it to his customer. The hot- 
rodder bent his head to the spilling sandwich and ate as 
if his life depended on it, thrustingly. In the meantime, the 
pharmacist, a short man in a white coat, sweating profusely 
despite the air conditioning, came bustling from his cubicle 
and said, "Heart attack? You want I should call a doctor, 

"Ohh, please, dear God, a Bromo!" she shouted. 

"I'll call a doctor, he'll be right over." 


"Bromo for a dying man! Why don't you give it to 
him? Mercy, mercy!" 

The pharmacist was on the telephone and the howling 
woman subsided in shrill spasms. Her husband swayed on 
the stool, his eyes shut, while his wife leaned sobbing 
against his back to keep him from toppling onto the 
ground. She refused to let anyone touch him in order to 
lay him out on the floor someone's idea as if this min- 
istry would commit him once and for all to the hands 
of death. Naturally, my innards shrank from this; the layers 
of the self closed tight; the flower of feeling was shut, sealed. 
I wanted to rush in some place, rush away; strike, destroy, 
run; kill Frank, kill the hotrodder, because a man was 
dying and nobody could do anything. Thus righteousness 
substitutes for being straight with the world. I was sly 
and scared. Thus I occupied myself with rage at my friend 
Frank, who pretended to hear nothing and stubbornly 
refused to make the glass of Bromo Seltzer. 

During the five minutes before the doctor arrived, the 
scene altered rapidly and tensely. Of course, all the break- 
fasters but the determined hotrodder stopped their eating. 
The kid in the leather jacket asked for pretzels with his 
Coke for sustained strength behind the wheel. The rest of 
us drifted, lurking behind the sick man on his stool. His 
wife wept and cursed and heaved out her sobs because no 
one would supply a Bromo. 

Then abruptly the man shook himself and opened his 
eyes and tried to stand up. He stumbled; his wife pushed 
him back onto the stool. He shook his head and mumbled. 
Then rapidly the purple color diminished; his eyes stopped 
their blind rolling; he began to talk with his wife. He was 
returning to the living. He and his wife had a whispered 
consultation. She nodded rapidly at him, like a bird. 

Suddenly she alighted and flew out the door. The man, 
left behind on the stool, said hoarsely, "Lemme have a 
glass of water, will you, pal?" 


Frank gave him the water. 

Now the doctor entered, rolling his sleeves down and 
carrying his black bag open. He had apparently run a block 
in the tropical morning heat. 

"Haha!" said the formerly dying man. Just like that: 
"Hahaha! Hi, Doc!" 

"You're the sick man?" said the doctor. "Let's see 
now " 

"Hahaha! Don't touch me, Doc," said the old man, 
leaning away. "Listen, Doc, it's a funny thing. My wife 
gets herself all excited aggravated." 

"You mean you're all right?" the doctor said. 

"Just like a little attack was all I had, hahaha," said 
the old man. 

"You're okay?" 

"Look, Doc, I ain't been eating right, you know, en- 
joying myself, hahaha, A little attack. I get them sometimes. 
Like a little attack is all." 

"Okay," said the doctor firmly, "you don't want me to 
look at you? Okay." He nodded briskly to the pharmacist, 
said, "I've got a patient in my office," and trotted off again 
into the heat. 

The old man smiled and gazed without malice at 
Frank, who had refused him the Bromo. Instead of leaving 
a tip he left him one word of explanation before he headed 
off after his wife. The word was deposited on the counter 
behind him with an apologetic smile: "Constipation." 

Eggs in tie plates of all the late breakf asters were left 
cold and shiny. The hotrodder alone had finished his sand- 
wich, Coke, and pretzels, and left whistling. Angry at last, 
I discharged an unformulated hostility on Frank: "Why 
the devil didn't you give the man his Bromo?" 

His reply seems an obvious bit of logical disquisition 
at this remove, but there in the shadow of panic and crisis 
it struck me with the force of revelation. Rubbing a dirty 
cloth on the counter formulating and reformulating a 


smear of grease before me he said, "If he was dying of a 
heart attack, what good would a Bromo do him? And if he 
was not dying, what good is a Bromo?" 

"Yes, but." 

"So I have to do my job, but I don't have to listen to 

"But you didn't say anything! That woman was hys- 

He looked at me with undisguised pity for my igno- 
rance. "That's why I didn't say anything. I been in trouble 
for saying things before, I learned." 

He went back to work; the pharmacist was back in 
his cubicle, counting pills into a bottle; the doctor had 
returned to his office. It was eleven o'clock and Frank took 
down the sign about the breakfast special. A man came in 
frightened to ask for the special, and Frank pointed to 
the sign, which was upside down on the counter, and said, 
"It's five minutes after eleven already. But 111 give it to 
you." The look of despair faded from the man's face. 

In a few days I finished my own job and begaa the 
long drive out of the false Florida summer into the north- 
ern winter, my heels passing over all sorts of unf elt beasties, 
my gullet accepting steaks and chops, my heart leaping 
with no better welcome to death than before. In Detroit 
my daughter asked me, "What's God's last name? How 
big is the whole world? Where do you go when you die?" 

The foregoing inconclusive words were written two 
years ago. Now I have seen fit to return to my cafeteria- 
and-old-folks slum on lower Collins Avenue, and osten- 
sibly for the same lure of cheap sun, sky, water, beach, bore- 
dom. I write, I swim. I stroll on Lincoln Road, I eat 
steaks and pizza, I sniff the sea with my sunburnt beak, 
I suck in my belly and run barefoot on the sand, I sleep, 
I write. In front of one of the new hotels I found a nude 
in plaster, beckoning, with her hand lifted as if hitching a 


ride. All aboard, you masturbators. Some of the fruit juice 
and hamburger stands have disappeared; new ones have 
opened. The Ellis Department Store, Here Since 1919, is 
closed, looks ransacked, has a box of Fruit of the Loom 
T-shirts spilled in the window and a U.S. Federal Court 
bankruptcy notice affixed to its sealed door. 

I met a waitress in a restaurant which advertises nine- 
course dollar dinners. She has a pretty, lively, thirty-five- 
yearold girl's face, with all the black brightness of eye a 
man could want; she turns out to be Corsican and we 
speak French; an artillery sergeant brought her to Florida 
and apparently tired of her brightness of eye. She has a 
rattling Corsican accent, likes Edith Piaf records, and 
gives me extra shrimp bits in my shrimp bits salad. So 
some things change. Last time I heard no Edith Piaf and 
earned no extra forkfuls of shrimp. The sirloin steak she 
brings me spreads its wings and seems ready to flop off 
the plate. My gut talks French and I take ease in the flattery 
of food. I wait and at last she slips into my booth with me 
and sighs. It is eleven o'clock, time to begin real life. Her 
history is sad. I feel obliged to offer some recompense for 
the evil done her by men and luck, and so I listen, won- 
dering how her eyes can remain so bright as the disasters 
and disillusionments unroll. 

When I said good night, she replied with a funny, 
rapidly fiddling, diddling, twenty-one-fingered gesture at 
her mouth. I asked what it meant "Fun and glee!" she 
said, "fun and glee! Maintenant je suis une vraie Atner- 
icaine" Her eyes burn like stars, but like the stars, she has 
darkness between them. 

A day and a night and another day. The first week 

I eat salty bagels in the sun, I listen to the teenage 
girls after school wiih their curious mixture of Florida 
cracker and Bronx accents. I go back into the damp of 
my room the peculiar dank assault of cheap tropical bed- 


rooms and think my novel through once again, examining 
the pile of manuscript with my intentions in motion like 
a column of ants working over the struggling body of an 
insect. And when the life seems to weaken, I leave it and 
go out onto the beach or into the street. 

Madness consists partly in an extreme of isolation? 
Partly. But the demented tumble down from their asso- 
ciations and memories into other associations and mem- 
ories; they are sent away into the future with a map of 
the past which conforms to no agreed past and to no 
other map and yet it is their only chart, their history 
and route, their needs which are unfailingly present. The 
lonely traveler also brutally inflicts absolute possession of 
his movements upon the endless day, and the novelty of 
what he sees joins him in yet another way to his deepest 
desires and dreads. He returns, he never lets go. There is 
no escape even in isolation; there is no isolation, merely 
interrupted and distorted association, until death claims 
us. Then every man is an island entire of itself. 

In love, we seek freedom and purity even more than 
the comfort of diminished isolation. Those few fortunate 
ones who have the talent can bear the paradox of love. 
The rest of us are harassed by our contradictory demands 
join me, make me free. With age and aging, the model 
of all voyages (learn and grow, diminish and weary), comes 
final approach to the ultimate simplicity which love seeks 
to confound death. A paradox forever out of balance 
to answer a grave black simplicity: we are ill used. The facts 
we make for ourselves disappoint the intentions with which 
we make them. The opposable thumb, which is said to 
be responsible for civilization and history, give us no 
answers here, though with it we can grasp our pens and 
break insects in our hands. Finally we die, opposable 
thumbs and all. 

In the meantime, I visit my story. We exchange visits. 
I laugh over it, frown and worry over it, and urge it for- 


ward. Then I leave it for the Miami streets. The book 
follows me; it does not let me visit unaccompanied; it 
enters me instead and I try to shake it off as an adept at 
voodoo fights against possession by the importunate god. 
The opposable thumb is of no use in this contest; both 
the prize and the weapons have reached beyond tools, even 
tools of thinking; I am the quadruple god's horse dream 
of love, hope of meaning, joy of power, relish in being. 
Too much burden on one soul. Who asked me to feel 
sorry or glad for others? They were merely pious who asked 
me. Why follow their orders? I decide: I ^on't. But I 
cannot escape my self, which also gives orders. The flower 
of feeling opens; the flower shuts; it obeys the freshness of 
weather. All emotion flowing from health or illness par- 
takes of the pathetic fallacy, identifying moral value with 
the gifts of nature. My feet want to run; I am wearing 
Keds, and feel light on the foam rubber soles; but the heat 
of the sun holds me to earth. 

There is a hotel on Washington Boulevard which 
specializes in "economical, comfortable living for the re- 
tired." It is a huge dark building like the Women's House 
of Detention in Greenwich Village, but without the bars 
on the rooms, and there are purple lights playing on the 
palm trees outside, soft music piped throughout the 
grounds, and the frequent blare of a loudspeaker: "Missus 
Goldberg to the telephone! Missus Goldberg! Sadie, answer 
the phonel" when the children call from New York. The 
streets of the neighborhood are filled with chattering of 
mournful elder statesmen, mostly losers after sixty years of 
continual negotiation, men with chagrined pouches slipping 
sideways beneath their eyes, women with hair bursting onto 
their cheeks and upper lips, as if all at once, near the end, 
they have decided to make a final try at being better men 
than their husbands. 

To walk through the crowd during the hour following 
their afternoon naps is to wade in senility. There is a 


deep-sea lack of light despite all the sun and brisk resort 
clatter; you gasp for life and run to look in a dusty window. 
Narcissus wants to be just thirty-five, "nel mezzo del cam- 
min di nostra vita" and not seventy, not seventy! The 
crowd flutters by. "She thought she could be my daughter- 
in-law! A girl like that! To be my daughter-in-law! And 
you know what? Now she is/' "I used to be in business. I 
had a good business. It was a nice store, good location. 
Furniture. I should have kept my location/ 7 "What does 
the weather report say? Does the weather report ever say 
anything but the weather?" "Moishe died. He had an 
attack. Well, we all got to go/' 

Is it the same voice, the same rhythm? It is the same 
crowd grief, isolation, death. There almost always seems 
to be an ambulance pulling up or pulling away. 

It is fine to tell a story, which feels like affirmation, 
but afterwards, after the morning's writing, then what? 
Writing is an expression of affirmation, power, longing, 
but not a proper cause of these emotions in the writer. 
He is a guide into delight and dread because he can 
escape victimization (he thinks); he has left a little trail 
of paper behind him as he threads his way into the maze, 
and can find his way back (he believes though the roar 
of the maze sets up a disarray in anything as fragmentary 
as his intentions about return). He tracks the minotaur 
with an open mind. "Maybe 111 like it," he says, "and 
maybe I won't. At least I'll see/' He initiates passion only 
because he has it otherwise self-delusion and covetous 
self-therapy. And so it is not good to be alone for long, 
entirely alone. 

But at least for a time, until they dim out, loneliness 
sharpens the eyes. I feel like a safecracker; loneliness has 
also sharpened my fingertips, and my entire body through- 
out feels the clicking tumblers as I yearn toward the com- 
bination. I come to focus, I work. But afterwards, then 
what? I have retreated from the distractions of Manhattan. 


There are no telephone calls. No friendship, no duties, no 
hazards of pique or pleasure. I shall work till the battery 
runs down, frozen and stilled by this busy emptiness under 
the sun. I ask myself: Can the silent column of ants re- 
construct the living roach at its leisure underground? No, 
only a tree can make a tree, only a winged roach can make 
a winged roach. A column of ants works by an invisible 
will which resides in no one of its jointed parts, but only a 
swollen green ant can breed an urgent ant. 

As I walk on Lincoln Road, the smart shopping area 
of "the Beach/' I ogle the oglers, the sunburned sun- 
worshipers basted with oil, cream, tonic, and lotion the 
touts, boxers, fairies, grandmothers, exiled Cubans, local 
hotrodders and their gumchewing molls, sportsmen, natty 
invalids in gabardine, drunks, stockbrokers, antique col- 
lectors, Semites and anti-Semites all taking the air to- 
gether on Lincoln Road. Hill people, swamp people, and 
ex-pugs sell newspapers flown in from all over New York, 
Chicago, Los Angeles ("Smogsville!" cackles a refugee). 
And New York is harried by flu and Chicago is black with 
coal and damp. And here we all are on Lincoln Road, with 
a delicious breeze, courtesy of the steakhouse pumping 
cool air into the street. So let's buy the hometown paper 
to see how miserable we might have been, for others are. 

On Lincoln Road, fair Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, 
the Negroes have been freed; freed of existence, that is; 
only a few black ghosts slip discreetly by. Even if they 
were not so discreet, they would be invisible, though for 
a new reason: they are going someplace, namely, to work, 
or at another hour, home. For them, Lincoln Road is a 
mere artery for transit, while for the others, Lincoln Road 
is parlor, sunroom, promontory into health and beauty. 
For the visitors, Lincoln Road is a slow matter, a recipe 
for yearned-for slowness, sloth, strolling ease, delicacy of 
control. The cocky Broadway chapparoonies are wearing 
their new pleatless "Miami-Tailored Daks/' Their bellies 


do the work of belts, hiding the place where belts would 
be. Now I'm so slow I don't need a belt, the pants proudly 
announce; Fm just walkin' along, just struttin' down 
the avenue, just here and pleasant with myself, and 
when I take a breath, the expandable elastic waistband ex- 
pands with me. In the men's room of a bar off Lincoln 
Road, hung with photographs of wrestlers, there is a curious 
vending machine which is decorated with a crown and 
raised scepter and submits a product called DE-LA: "Say 
Delay, a light lubricating ointment designed to aid in the 
prevention of premature climax. Odorless. Safe. Stainless. 
Easy to apply. Directions on package. 50^ coins only. 
Machine does not give change." 

Machine makes comment, however. Machine is trying 
to tell us something. 

The Negro girl who cleans my room gets yelled at, 
screamed at, all morning. "Stupid, stupid, stupid! A single 
room only gets two towels, one face, one bath!" She smiles 
slyly to herself as if she knows where the manager's DE-LA 
is hidden. This is the southland, I am reminded, where we 
have grits for breakfast. But it is not quite dat ole Dixie, 
boss, which changeth not, nor can age alter it. It is Miami 
Beach. The Sholem Aleichem Literary Society ("Managed 
by Tourists Managed for Tourists") has a For Rent sign 
on it "Owner Will Remodel for Any Business." 

I decide as I walk: I'll write my book till the battery 
runs down, though distraction seems necessary; other duties, 
friends, "real life." 

The sirens of the police ambulances work up and 
down the Beach all day and night, announcing the news 
as they carry away the attacked, the fallen, the stroked, 
the perished. A population of the aged sheds its members 
at the merest trifle of an excuse a bottle of cold pop in 
the sun, a skipped nap, somebody raising his voice sud- 
denly or no excuse at all. It touches life and someone 
dies. It treads carelessly and someone dies. The sirens 


whir and howl and Negroes courteously open the back door 
for the corpse. For some reason people smile at the am- 
bulance as they stroll, sucking ice cream. Perhaps they 
dream of an accident, a distraction: Siren meets 'white 
Thunderbird, boy of forty cut off in his prime, had a girl 
in there -with him, not his wife. Perhaps thinking: Not me 
this time. 

One of those impossible coincidences. Today I met 
Dr. Meyer leading his blind wife. He was our family doctor 
in Cleveland, addicted to practical jokes, who always said 
he wanted to do research, and in fact he had some sort 
of connection with one of the important drug laboratories. 
When he retired from practice, he announced to my 
parents over a bottle of wine that now he would begin his 
true life's work. I had decided that his practical jokes, 
bought in Jean's Fun House on East 9th Street buzzers, 
false flies, stomach noises, leaky cups were a symptom of 
childish anger at adult responsibility. But now that he could 
retire from practice and try his hand at research. ... It 
turned out that his wife had inoperable cataracts; she went 
blind fast, and he went sour, quiet, mean; and they left 
Cleveland for Miami Beach, where I saw him leading her, 
walking with the stiff, frightened step of the unaccustomed 
blind. He is shrunken; only today do I notice that he is a 
small man when I was a boy, he was immense. At present, 
and forever until the very end, his life's work is to steer his 
wife to the beach in the morning and sit with her to 
describe what he sees. He has replaced both practical jokes 
and dreams of a laboratory with loyalty to his wife, but vir- 
tue has made him a furious runt 

Fantasies of thighs, breasts, bellies as I nap on the 
beach. I awaken, sticky with salt. My nose is peeling. Shall 
I visit the Corsican waitress again tonight? Shall I ask the 
Meyers to dinner? But I have made this disappearance into 
Miami Beach in order to avoid the troubles of others and 
of myself. I swim again. I doze again. I dream of sex with a 


woman I overheard describing the proper way to kill a 
chicken "so it don't suffer. You ask anyone, they'll tell you. 
And there's nothing like fresh-killed chicken. You can't 
trust the butchers." 

A man in the coffee shop later said to the cashier: "I 
been sick, that's why you ain't seen me. Doctor said cor- 
onary thrombosis. You ever heard of that?" 

"Naw. Lots of people got coronaries, but that throm- 
bosis, that's a new thing. The docs keep finding new things 
so they can charge us." 

'Well, I'll tell you, it left me feeling pretty weak." 

I went one night to see a road company version of My 
FaiT Lady at the Miami Beach Auditorium, which more 
frequently provides hospitality for wrestling or boxing 
matches. A maggoty, bored imitation of Rex Harrison, a 
thick Eliza without any bounce. The audience is quietly 
taking in the famous sight. They write on their postcards 
home: Tonight we saw a Broadway show, but the girl 
was fat. 

Crazy Louie on the beach a frantic grandfather with 
Latin records, maracas, castanets, silk Cuban shirts, feathers, 
straw skirt, rubber Halloween masks, a huge earring loosely 
hooked to his ear by a bent hairpin, thick glasses sliding 
down his nose, leathery withered legs, dancing and danc- 
ing, all sinews and grins and shakes to some inner song 
while the portable phonograph goes rattie-and-scrape, 
screech, rattle, and scrape. Amazingly, the crowd which 
regularly gathers on the sand nearby seems to enjoy his 
music; some of them shake, too, dreaming of the days when 
they had lust to squander on their legs. Dr. Meyer's wife 
smiles as he describes the scene. "Are you smiling, Meyer?" 
she asks. He says yes, but is lying. Crazy Louie bangs his 
Castanet under her nose and screams "O/e!" and she jumps. 
At last Dr. Meyer smiles. 

Then he tells her that sometimes the beginnings of 
arteriosclerosis can be detected at age twenty-five. "Cuts 


off the blood supply to the brain. The psychiatrists think 
they're smart, but they can't do anything about the histo- 
logical system. The brain dries up like a scab." 

"Meyer, you shouldn't use such language." 

"You mean histology?" 

"I mean scab, Meyer." 

Crazy Louie is dancing and cackling, kicking sand. The 
old ladies in their bathing skirts fan themselves contentedly 
as he enters his Afro-Cuban apocalypse. On the beach 
there is a rural, village tolerance of madness. Louie doesn't 
do any harm. His children sent him down. He is new since 
my last visit. 

And where are my old friends? 

The cockroach in the alley is long gone, of course, and 
its grandchildren unto many generations. But I have found 
cheap sun again for my sinus, and white ocean breaking 
against the distractions of Manhattan in winter, spring, 
summer, fall. I think of a friend, a Jewish chauvinist, argu- 
ing with his girl: "When your people were still living in 
trees and hitting each other with sticks, my people already 
had sinus trouble." 

The Spinoza Forum is gone, replaced by a motel. Dr. 
Wolfson still goes to the beach every afternoon. But the 
neighborhood is changed. He has nothing to say to me 
except that raw beets, honey, and tangerines keep a man 
virtuous and healthy, no matter what his age. 

The woman who knew Thomas Wolfe did I forget 
to mention that last time? and swam as if she wanted 
to die, and worked as a B-girl . . . gone. She wanted to 
reconstruct some cabin-in-the-woods dream of perfection, 
but she could never find the missing pieces. Life is not a 
jigsaw puzzle; once it has been scrambled, the old picture 
is gone. 

The racing-car driver with whom I chatted a couple 
of times at breakfast gone. 

The column of ants at the cockroach gone. 


The drummed-up acquaintances even their names 

The hotel clerk who wanted to explore in Guatemala 
perhaps he is exploring in Guatemala. The new manager 
of the hotel has never even heard of him. 

And the man who died dead. 

I know this for certain, for I have finally discovered 
an old friend. Frank, the gray bozo behind the counter 
at Whelan's, is still there. I had taken up new eating habits 
and did not return to Whelan's during my first week in 
Miami Beach, but then I did and found him, still building 
hamburger platters and scrambling eggs. At first he did 
not remember me. He never knew my name. When I 
reminded him of the incident about the man who died, 
and of our long breakfast friendship, a look of irritation 
captured his face demands were being made on him 
but then his cross mug creased into a smile. He did re- 
member me! He only needed to be reminded! 

"You know that old fool," he said. "Later really did 
die. He's dead. Later died." 

There was a new cat in the store. A new special on 
toothbrushes. A new pharmacist. 

I had a hamburger on our old friendship, and Frank 
put an extra slice of tomato on the side to prove that he 
remembered me. But why should he? He had been an 
experience for me the same now, with balder eyebrows 
but what was I to him? For me he existed as an example 
of something, a moment of frightening history, a troubled 
memory which I had set down in words. I had needed a 
friend then, but he did not I was frightened by death then, 
and worse, by a way of receiving death, but he was not 
and perhaps never admits that he might be. 

Why does he stay in Miami Beach? 

Yes, for a job. Yes, for the sun. But why there? 

All right, then why not there? 

Why do I go back? 


Why did I go back? What happened to those dead 
and dying ones? They died and were dead; they were 
swept away. I thought, the first time I went to Miami 
Beach, that I had made a free choice to be isolated, but 
I discovered that everyone comes to the state of isolation 
in time though not freely. What I did out of apparent 
health and youth, in the pleasure of work, those others 
did in sickness and age, in the anxiety of boredom. But 
eventually work is done, health turns to decay, youth 
turns to ripeness turns to age; feebleness and dying must 
precede death except for fighter pilots, who are anach- 
ronisms. Miami Beach is an extension, adult education 
course in how to die, pursued with great seriousness by the 
enrollees. The old folks work at it with deliberate and 
modest intensity, in group sessions, complimenting each 
other on their tans, their sport shirts, their postgraduate 
skill at finding a proper weather. The young vacationers 
flush in on packaged tours, immerse themselves in the 
ceremonial indulgences of resort hotels, eat, swim, and 
enjoy their honeymoon wrestling, take in Eartha Kitt or 
Leo de Lion, sigh with boredom and excess, buy bottles of 
Man Tan at the air terminal ("Arrive With Fresh Sun 
On Your Cheeks!"), and flee back to real life with a secret 
conviction that this is leisure? Strictly for the birds, brother. 

That first time in Miami Beach, I was a curious ob- 
server, obscurely moved, with the face of a man who fear- 
fully unwinds a rope as he visits his dream of the turtle 
slaughterhouse. The second time (the last time!), two 
years' change had begun to discover my implication to me; 
I broke the rope; the model of death is real; the dream 
of dying is real. The tanned, reduced, heliotropic Doctor 
Meyer recognized me despite his wife's blindness ("Han- 
nah! Look who's here!"), and when I spoke to her, she 
gropingly embraced me. This was why I went back to 
feel Mrs. Meyer's arms hotly convulsed about my neck, 
as if I were still a boy in Cleveland, and to know that I 


was not a young man from Cleveland visiting Miami 
Beach as he had toured carnivals, the war, the Caribbean, 
Europe, and taken the boat ride around Manhattan. I was 
a winter visitor, tired of town, come for the sun, who had 
been there before. 

Am I now satisfied with what I found? Which is: 
"Later really did die. Later died." Just as in the alley 
two years ago, in that swept space where there was no 
longer any roach and no column of ants, history enters 
upon new epochs which begin to grow familiar to me.